According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with the flu virus may be contagious from one day before getting sick to five to seven days after.
Because increased patient volume in emergency rooms causes longer wait times and exposes patients and their families to the flu and other contagious illnesses, following are guidelines to help parents discern when to bring their children to the hospital:
- Know when to take newborns to the hospital.
Infants under two months of age – who are at particular risk of catching illnesses from people who are contagious – are among those visiting the emergency department with minor ailments. Infants that age who are constipated, have a rash or are spitting up are better served by their pediatrician. If a baby is not eating, is listless, has any fever or difficulty breathing or has a color change, visit the emergency department.
- Fever in older children is not an emergency.
For children over two months of age, fever by itself is not an indication to take a child to the hospital. Fever is quite common during the winter seasons and it’s a common manifestation of the flu, which we’re seeing now. If your child has a fever and responds to Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen), that’s an indication the child doesn’t need to come to the emergency department.
- Keep an eye out for these emergency symptoms.
Children of all ages should immediately be brought to the emergency department if they have difficulty breathing, become unresponsive, suffer from excessive vomiting or appear dehydrated with decreased urination, dry lips or sunken eyes. Any of these symptoms warrants an emergency visit.
- Be mindful of the flu.
The increased patient visits to the emergency department can be partially attributed to the early arrival of flu season.
- Get your flu shot.
Parents can help avoid a trip to the emergency room by making sure everyone in their family over six months of age receives a flu shot.
- Keep healthy family members out of the emergency department.
Parents can help reduce exposure to flu and other illnesses by limiting the number of family members who accompany a sick child to the emergency department. Healthy children and relatives should remain at home.
Flu Season Resources
- A Guide to Helping You Fight the Flu (PDF)
- View this week’s flu activity on cdc.gov
- Flu: A Guide for Parents of Children or Adolescents with Chronic Health Conditions