When should I stay home from work?

If you get the flu, chances are you will be so wiped out; you won’t want to go into work — at least for a couple of days. A cold won’t leave you feeling as tired, but you can still feel miserable for the first day. And, in both cases, you could infect others if you go into work. Both a cold and the flu are highly contagious and are easy to pass. With a cold, you are most contagious during the first three days of symptoms. It then peters out over the week. As we all know, a cold is spread through coughing and sneezing, but even standing close to someone and talking can send out little droplets carrying the virus. With the flu, you can begin to infect others one day before symptoms develop. And then, just like with a cold, if you have the flu, you’re still contagious up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Kids, again, are a different matter.

“Kids shed the virus a lot longer than adults,” says Rau. “That’s why they’re good vectors.” And just to confuse things further, some people can be infected with the flu but have no symptoms, and yet, they can still spread the virus to others.

Should I keep my child home from school?

If your child has a fever and you suspect they have the flu, they should definitely stay at home, even if they appear to have a milder case. That way your child won’t infect other children, including those who could either develop severe illness or who could pass it on to younger siblings.

The flu can be quite dangerous to children under two, because their immune systems are not mature enough to fight it. The flu can develop into bronchitis, pneumonia, or other problems, sending hundreds of kids to hospital every year. Most experts agree it’s best to keep kids who are sick with the flu at home for at least a few days until they can resume daily activities. In most kids, the flu will run its course in about a week, though the cough and sometimes fatigue can last a few weeks. But very young children are a different matter, says Rau. “With newborns, you have to be more cautious; it doesn’t matter if it’s flu season or not,” says Rau. He says young infants who develop cold symptoms should be seen by their doctor. “You don’t want to miss bacterial meningitis or pneumococcal pneumonia,” Rau says.

Should I be worried if I’m pregnant?

A cold is not worrisome to most of those who are pregnant, though it’s best to seek your doctor’s advice about what kind of cold and pain-relieving medication to take. The flu, on the other hand, can be dangerous, because pregnant women can develop pneumonia and require hospitalization. In general, the risk is low in the first trimester, but it increases as the pregnancy goes on. The highest risk of hospitalization from influenza is during the third trimester. That’s why the Public Health Agency of Canada recommends pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy get the flu vaccine.

When should we see a doctor?

In most cases, the flu can be treated at home with bed rest and fever reducing medication. Complications are rare in otherwise healthy people. But, you should consider speaking to your doctor if you have any of the following conditions:

  • lung disease
  • any chronic health problem that requires regular medical attention
  • an illness that might affect their immune systems, such as cancer, or HIV/AIDS
  • pregnancy.

If your child has the flu and then develops any of the following warning signs, you should call your child’s doctor for advice:

  • Severe or persistent vomiting.
  • Not drinking enough fluids. Goes to the bathroom less than every six hours while awake if two years of age or older.
  • Not waking up or not interacting. Loses interest in playing, watching TV, eating or drinking.
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held and cries a lot.
  • Flu symptoms improve, but then return with fever and worse cough Call 911 if your child has severe trouble breathing, and it is not caused by a stuffy nose.
  • Has blue lips or hands, suddenly becomes pale, or has cold legs up to their knees.
  • Is so sleepy that he doesn’t respond when you try to get him up or isn’t able to move or seems confused.
  • Has a seizure.

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