Caring for a Child With H1N1 Influenza

Caring for a Child With H1N1 Influenza

If your child has been diagnosed with H1N1 influenza (swine flu) you might be worried about how to provide home care. The truth is, there isn't much difference between caring for a child with the H1N1 flu versus one with the seasonal flu.

The H1N1 flu is still a flu virus — so rest, relaxation, and drinking plenty of fluids should be at the top of the treatment list.

Still, parents should be aware of some special considerations when it comes to this new flu strain:

Fortunately, most kids who get this flu virus will do just fine and get better on their own within a couple weeks.

To keep your child as comfortable as possible during this time, while also limiting the spread of flu germs to others, here are some guidelines:

When to Keep Kids Home

Kids who start to have flu-like symptoms should kept out of school or childcare. Symptoms of the H1N1 flu are fever (100º F or 37.8º C or above) plus any one or more of the following:

Keep your child home at the first sign of illness and call your doctor to see if an office visit is necessary. To prevent the spread of the virus, your child should only leave the house for medical care or other necessities.

Caretakers, siblings, and other family members of kids with flu-like symptoms can continue to go to work or school, but it's especially important for them to avoid germs by washing their hands often and avoiding face-to-face contact with the infected person.

Some schools and employers may request that family members stay home for a couple of days.

When to Go to the ER

Having symptoms of the H1N1 flu or the seasonal flu is not a reason to go to the emergency room. If your child has flu-like symptoms, consult your doctor for treatment advice.

However, if your child is in medical distress, immediate medical care is needed. Go to the ER or dial 911 if your child:

Treating Symptoms

Kids without chronic health conditions usually tolerate infection with the H1N1 flu virus fairly well and get better on their own without medical treatment.

Those who have developed a serious illness and require hospitalization or who are at risk for complications from the flu (including kids younger than age 5 and those with chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and other lung problems) may be given antiviral medicines to ease symptoms, shorten the duration of the illness, and prevent complications.

When caring for a sick child at home, make sure to:

If your child has a chronic condition, like asthma, make sure to check with your doctor to help ensure the condition is under control.

Remember to call your doctor if your child seems to get better, then feels worse, develops a high fever, has any trouble breathing, or seems confused.

Preventing the Spread of Infection

Part of caring for a child with the H1N1 flu is trying to make sure that other family members do not get infected with the virus.

There's no surefire way to completely stop the spread of germs, but you can reduce the chances that others will become sick with these steps:

Combating Germs at Home

H1N1 spreads in the same way that other flu viruses do — through the air when someone who has the virus sneezes, coughs, or speaks. People also can catch the virus after touching a contaminated surface of an object that someone with the virus touched, sneezed, or coughed on.

Germs can survive on tabletops, kitchen counters, toys, and doorknobs for up to 8 hours after being deposited there, so it's important to sanitize these areas throughout the course of a day. Use a household disinfectant to wipe areas clean.

Linens, dishes, and eating utensils should not be shared with a sick person, but can be used by other family members after a thorough cleaning. Kitchen items can be washed by hand with soap and water or in the dishwasher with detergent. Wash linens with laundry soap and tumble dry on "hot" — and try to limit touching the laundry prior to washing it (for instance, carry it to the washer in a basket, not in your arms).

Whenever possible, air out common areas by opening windows.

Sending Kids Back to School

Kids are no longer considered contagious and can return to school after their fever is gone for at least 24 hours without the aid of fever-reducing medicines. Some kids might need to stay home longer, depending on how they feel. If you have questions or concerns, check with your doctor.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: September 2009

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

© 1995-2011 The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. All rights reserved.

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Related Resources
Web SiteH1N1 (Swine) Flu Website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The CDC's site has up-to-date information on H1N1 (swine) flu outbreaks, symptoms, prevention, and more.
OrganizationAmerican Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.
Web SiteCDC Immunization: Pre-teens and Adolescents CDC site provides materials in English and Spanish for parents, teens, pre-teens, and health care providers about vaccines and the diseases they prevent.
Web SiteInfluenza Website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The CDC's site has up-to-date information on flu outbreaks, immunizations, symptoms, prevention, and more.
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