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Baby Health A-Z: Flu

If that stuffiness and low mood is due to flu, there are ways to give your baby his very own duvet day

What is it?

Flu, or influenza, is a viral illness that’s very contagious. There are different types of flu, and each year about two or three strains will circulate among the population. The main risk with flu is that the virus can lower your immunity. This is why it’s a particular problem for your baby, as she’ll already have a weaker immune system than you, and can pick up secondary illnesses such as chest infections.

‘The flu virus evolves each winter into different strains, but in some cases it can change so much that it becomes a mutated form of flu,’ says Gillian Davies, a health visitor at Liverpool Community Health Trust. ‘This is what happened during the 2009 swine flu outbreaks.’

What causes it?

Flu can be caught at any time of the year, although traditionally the flu season is between October and April. ‘Nobody’s really sure why it’s more common in winter time, but it could be because we spend more time indoors in enclosed spaces so it’s caught more easily,’ says Dr Maureen Baker from the Royal College of GPs.

As your baby can’t tell you if he has a headache or aching muscles, it can be difficult to know if he has the flu

Flu is spread when people cough or sneeze, and droplets containing the virus are inhaled. ‘The virus can also be passed on when you sneeze into your hand, touch an object and then your baby picks up the object and sucks it or puts his hand in his mouth,’ says Gillian.

If you come down with flu, practise good hygiene as much as possible to reduce the chances of your baby catching it. ‘Catch coughs and sneezes in a tissue, throw it away and then wash your hands if you can,’ says Gillian.

What are the symptoms?

In adults, it’s easy to pin-point flu symptoms. ‘A high temperature, fever and chills, aching muscles, sore throat and headache are common signs of flu,’ says Gillian.

But as your baby can’t tell you if he has a headache or aching muscles, it can be difficult to know if he has the flu, or another illness with similar symptoms. If you’re unsure, talk to your GP.

Flu symptoms are pretty severe, so if your baby is a bit snuffly, but generally well in himself, it’s more likely to be a common cold.

What can you do?

If you’re pregnant, make sure you get the flu vaccine as that passes on some immunity for your baby for the first six months of his life. ‘Babies under two years old don’t get the flu vaccination unless they have a health condition such as asthma,’ says Maureen.

However, the government decided that children aged two years and over will start getting the flu vaccine in the form of a nasal spray from September 2013. If you suspect your baby or toddler has flu, contact your GP immediately so he can be assessed.

‘As it’s a virus, you can’t take antibiotics to cure it, but if he’s very unwell, he may need to go to hospital to receive fluids through an IV drip,’ says Maureen. If the flu symptoms aren’t too serious, your baby can recover at home. ‘Infant paracetamol and ibuprofen will help to reduce his fever,’ says Gillian. ‘Make sure he also has plenty of fluids in the form of milk and water.’

See your GP if…

You’re worried about your baby. Flu is a serious illness, so if you’re unsure whether it’s flu or just a nasty cold, it’s always safer to get him checked out by a doctor.

‘If your baby becomes floppy, has breathing difficulties or a non-changing rash, always seek immediate medical attention,’ says Gillian. ‘And if you don’t see any improvement in your baby’s symptoms after 24-48 hours, go back to your GP.’

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