How Long Should a Child Stay Out of School with the Flu?

Sad child suffering from the flu

Though the length of the actual season can vary from year to year, the flu typically shows up between the fall and spring. That means it is almost always present during the months your child is in school. 

If you suspect your child has the flu, how long should they stay out of school? 

How Contagious is the Flu? 

The flu can spread easily from person to person when sharing a space with someone carrying the virus. In other words, allowing a sick child to go into a classroom setting can expose everyone in the room. 

Each time the sick student sneezes, coughs, or even talks, small droplets make it into the air and can be inhaled by others in the classroom. These germs can also be picked up on surfaces and enter the body by rubbing the eyes and nose or putting fingers in the mouth. 

How Do I Know If My Child Is Contagious? 

There is no definitive way to determine precisely when your child is contagious with the flu. It is safe to assume that the flu is most easily spread within the first 3 to 4 days of diagnosis, though some may still remain contagious up to 10 days after diagnosis. 

As long as your child has a fever or is exhibiting symptoms, they should stay home. 

What Are the Symptoms of the Flu? 

The flu may be spread easily, but its signs and symptoms may take up to four days to appear. 

Do you know what symptoms you are looking for? While most people believe that the flu presents with gastrointestinal issues, it is actually more likely to affect the nose, throat, and lungs. 

Below are a few of the most common flu symptoms.

  • A fever of 100°F and higher
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body aches
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Irritability
  • Diarrhea and/or vomiting

Your child’s pediatrician will be able to make a formal diagnosis if needed. 

How Do You Treat the Flu? 

The flu can often be treated at home without a trip to the doctor’s office. 

There is no medication to treat the flu. Viral infections require a symptoms-focused approach, such as taking over-the-counter pain relievers to reduce pain and drinking plenty of fluids to remain hydrated. Salt-water gargles and humidifiers also help, too. 

Within a few days of this treatment, the child will often begin to feel better. 

If your child has any underlying conditions or the symptoms are not dissipating, then it is important to reach out to your pediatrician right away. 

Be Proactive With the Flu Vaccine

To help protect your child and avoid the flu each season, make sure you visit your child’s pediatrician to get vaccinated. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months get an annual flu vaccine every fall. Doing so will significantly reduce your child’s risk of getting sick when coming in contact with the virus. 

Not only is a vaccinated child less likely to get sick — they are less likely to miss school because of the flu. 

Advocare Haddon Pediatric Group is a highly experienced team of pediatricians serving patients from birth through college. They have been an established leader in pediatrics for decades in the Haddon Heights and Mullica Hill areas of New Jersey.

Emily Thompson

Emily Thompson