CLEVELAND -- According to the CDC, flu activity is now widespread in 24 states across the U.S., and 13 children have died as a result of influenza-related illness this flu season.

When it comes to prevention, nothing beats a flu vaccine.

“First and foremost, I would always encourage parents and caregivers to think about prevention by vaccine – that is the first, most important thing one can think about,” said Purva Grover, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic Children’s.

Dr. Grover said getting a flu vaccine is vital when trying to avoid serious flu-related complications.

“Younger kids, especially the very little ones, and high-risk patients who have leukemia or are otherwise immunocompromised, can get very, very sick,” she said. “This could include multiple complications from what may seem as simple as a high fever, to difficulty breathing, affecting the respiratory system, to conditions which affect the heart.” 

Dr. Grover said that the flu is a respiratory virus, but it can affect all parts of the body.

If a child becomes ill with the flu, she said it’s important to keep them as comfortable as possible.

Make sure they have medication to keep their fever under control, and keep them hydrated with plenty of fluids.

The flu is a virus, so there are no specific medications to treat it, which can be frustrating and worrisome for parents, and it can take five to seven days before a child really starts feeling better.

However, if a child has been given medication to reduce a fever and it’s not coming down, or if the child is not urinating more than twice a day, or has difficulty breathing – these are all signs of possible complications that need prompt medical attention.

Dr. Grover said the flu can be scary for parents, and gauging the severity of symptoms can often feel like a guessing game for them.

But when in doubt, she said it’s always best for parents to trust their instincts if they feel that something isn’t right.

“At any given point, if you feel something is not right with your child – it could be the way he or she is breathing, the way he or she looks, the way their color might be – all of those things – can be sign of a complication, and it’s better to seek medical attention than to forego it,” said Dr. Grover. 

Dr. Grover also said it’s important to keep children home until they’ve been fever-free, without the aid of fever-reducing medications, for at least 24 hours. If they head back to school or activities before this point, the child is still contagious and can spread the illness to others.

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