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What to Do If Your Newborn Has Been Exposed to the Flu

It is easy to panic if you've unknowingly or unexpectedly exposed your newborn to a highly contagious virus like the flu. If your little one has been in contact with some who has the influenza virus, you'll need to monitor him closely in case symptoms develop—and be ready to take action if they do.

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An Ounce of Prevention

In a perfect world, germs would never come near your baby. Still, unless you plan on isolating him from society until he's old enough to drive, it's unlikely that he'll motor through infancy and childhood without ever getting sick. You can strategize though to minimize exposure to germs and viruses, says Dr. Dina Kulik, a pediatrician with KinderCare Pediatrics in Toronto.

"Prevention is the best strategy," she advises. "Avoid sick people, practice good hygiene and recommend the same to others who see your baby.

"Cover coughs and sneezes – than wash your hands!" she adds.

The Flu Vaccine

Children who are younger than 6 months of age have the highest risk of hospitalization among all children, reports the Centers for Disease Control – yet they are still too young to receive the flu vaccine. To protect your newborn, the CDC recommends that you, your baby's caregivers, and any other family members who are older than 6 months of age receive an annual flu vaccine. Two out of every five children who die from the flu do not have any other health problems, notes the March of Dimes, so it's critical that you protect your newborn by controlling the spread of the virus by vaccinating yourself and your older children.

Watchful Waiting

Flu symptoms typically develop within a few days of exposure and can remain contagious even after the most serious symptoms subside, the CDC reports. If your baby has been near someone who has the flu or flu-like symptoms, keep a vigilant eye out for these common symptoms, which can mimic less serious viruses like the common cold:

Fever above 100.4 in a baby younger than 3 months old and above 102 in a 3- to 6-month-old

  • Sneezing, coughing and stuffy head
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

If your baby's fever spikes, try to stay calm. Fevers are a body's way of fighting off an infection, and most low-grade fevers are not cause for concern. In fact, a fever isn't considered a "high" fever in a child until it rises to 102 or higher, and most fevers will resolve on their own without medical intervention. Never give your baby an anti-fever medicine, such as infant acetaminophen, without first talking to your doctor.

RELATED: Why Everyone Should Get the Flu Vaccine

Potential Complications

Flu symptoms can escalate quickly. If the symptoms progress, call your pediatrician immediately. "If your baby has any respiratory distress, such as difficulty breathing or coughing, or has signs of dehydration, it is always best to see your doctor," says Kulik. Other signs of respiratory distress, including rapid breathing or a bluish skin color, may indicate that pneumonia is setting in, necessitating treatment or even hospitalization. After about four days of remaining symptom-free, your baby is likely in the clear, Kulik says. Above all, trust your instincts: If your baby seems ill, refuses to eat and has developed a high fever, alert your doctor immediately. If caught early, full-term babies may be able to receive prescription antiviral medications to lessen the duration and intensity of the illness.

Photograph by: Miroslav Beneda/iStock/Getty Images

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