• Parent Questions About Cold, Flu, and When to Keep a Child Home



     What is the difference between a cold and the flu? top back
    The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses.   Because these two types of illnesses have similar flu-like symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone.  In general, the flu is worse than the common cold and symptoms such as fever, body aches, extreme tiredness, and dry cough are more common and intense.  Colds are usually milder than the flu.  People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose.  Colds generally do no result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations.  

     How can you tell the difference between a cold and the flu? top back
    Because colds and flu share many symptoms, it can be difficult (or even impossible) to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone.  Special tests that usually must be done within the first few days of illness can be carried out, when needed to tell if a person has the flu.

     What is seasonal influenza (flu)? top back
    Seasonal influenza, commonly called "the flu" is caused by influenza viruses, which infect the respiratory track (i.e., the nose , throat, lungs).  Unlike many other viral respiratory infections, such as the common cold, the flu can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications in many people.  

     How does the flu spread? top back
    The main way that influenza viruses are thought to spread is from person to person in respiratory droplets of coughs and sneezes.  This can happen when droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person are propelled (generally up to 3 feet) through the air and deposited on the mouth or nose of people nearby.  The viruses also can spread when a person touches respiratory droplets on another person or an object and then touches their own mouth or nose (or someone else's mouth or nose) before washing their hands.

     How soon will my child get sick if he/she is exposed to the flu? top back
    The time from when a child is exposed to the flu virus to when symptoms begin is about one to four days, with an average of about two days.

     Can I protect my child or myself from getting a cold or the flu? top back
    Perventative measures are the best way to protect your child, yourself, and family members:
    • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.  Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze.  If soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based hand rub can be used.
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.  Germs spead this way.
    • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
    • If you are sick with flu-like symptoms, the CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone  (the fever should be gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine).

     If my child has a cold, should I keep him/her at  home? top back
    Childhood colds often last 10 days to 2 weeks.  Children would miss too much school if cold symptoms kept them at home.  Unless your child has a fever above 100 degrees or feels too ill to learn your child should be in school.

     When do I keep my child home from school for flu-like symptoms? top back
    If your child exhibits any of the following flu-like symptoms, please keep your child home from school:
    • A temperature greater than 100 degrees (as taken by mouth)
    • Vomiting in the last 24 hours.
    • Body aches, extreme tiredness, and dry intense cough.
    • If your child is feeling too ill to pay attention in class
     Watch for emergency warning signs that need urgent attention.  top back
    The warning signs include:
    • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
    • Bluish or gray skin color
    • Not drinking enough fluids
    • Not urinating or no tears when crying
    • Severe or persistent vomiting
    • Not waking up or not interacting
    • Being so irritable that the chld does not want to be held
    • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
    • Sudden dizziness
    • Confusion
    • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
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