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Flu or COVID-19: When to Seek Treatment for Your Child

Healthy Living


Is it flu or COVID-19? That’s a question many parents and caregivers may be asking when a child shows signs of illness.

Symptoms such as fever, muscle aches and a cough are similar in both viral illnesses, so a phone call to the child’s pediatrician or primary care provider will help determine next steps regarding testing for flu or COVID-19. Doctors may also recommend that children who are ill stay home from school and take a break from extracurricular activities, so they don’t spread germs to classmates and teachers while they wait for test results. Getting a flu vaccine- combined with masks, hand washing and social distancing- is the best way to reduce the likelihood of getting sick. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older.

Children’s of Alabama physicians treated more than 70,000 ill and injured patients in its Emergency Department (ED) last year, an average of more than 200 a day. Physicians remind parents that with that kind of volume, visiting an emergency room can be counter-productive if you have a non-urgent concern. Visiting an ED with a viral illness like flu or COVID-19 also exposes children with underlying conditions who can’t fight infection as well as others. The Children’s of Alabama Emergency Department is not a COVID-19 testing site. If your child needs a test, you should contact your pediatrician or primary care provider.

However, Dr. Kathy Monroe, a professor of pediatrics at UAB and the Medical Director of the Children’s of Alabama Emergency Department, said children who are laboring to breathe, have concerns for dehydration such as a low urine output or children who are sick and have a pre-existing medical condition- like asthma, sickle cell disease, diabetes or cancer- should be treated in an ED immediately. “We advise visiting an emergency department if your child is experiencing respiratory distress, is dehydrated or has an illness when the child also has an underlying medical condition,” Dr. Monroe said, adding that both Children’s and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that children be in the regular care of a primary care physician (pediatrician or family practice physician). †

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