Cold and Flu Facts to Weather the Surge

The weather is turning colder, which also means that cold and flu season is upon us. Your friends at UPMC Children’s Community Pediatrics are working hard to meet the care needs of our community.

To better prepare you for what this cold and flu season as in store, below is some helpful information:

Illness Prevention

Prevention is the best medicine when it comes to cold and flu season. So what can you do to proactively prepare your child? We recommend the following:

  • Make sure your child is up to date on all vaccines, including the flu and COVID-19 vaccine
  • Perform proper handwashing techniques
  • Make sure your child covers their cough or sneeze or wears a mask to protect others
  • Limit exposure – stay home if your child is sick

Cold or Flu What Should I Do?

Is it just the sniffles? Or something more? As a parent, it can be difficult to determine when to seek care for your child’s illness. Below are a few things to help better understand what your child may be experiencing and how you can help:


Gradual symptom onset

  • Monitor fever and breathing

Slight fever and aches

  • Treat for comfort with Acetaminophen/Ibuprofen
  • Seek medical care for fever of 104+ degrees (100.4 for babies under 3 months)

Mild to moderate congestion

  • Nasal saline and suction
  • Seek medical attention if breathing is labored

Duration is 7-10 days

  • Treat for comfort


Abrupt symptom onset

  • Monitor fever and breathing

Fever and aches occurs in the first 2-5 days

  • Treat for comfort with Acetaminophen/Ibuprofen
  • Seek medical care for fever of 104+ degrees (100.4 for babies under 3 months)

Congestion is common

  • Nasal saline and suction
  • Seek medical attention if breathing is labored

Duration is 10-14 days

  • Treat for comfort

When to Seek Care for Your Child

Watching your child experience illness in any form is heart wrenching. While you’re pediatrician can make recommendations on when to seek care, recognize that you know your child best. There’s a lot to be said about parents trusting their gut. If you think your child needs to be seen by your pediatrician, please call to discuss.

Below is a list of symptoms to watch for as an illness grows:

  • Symptoms are typically worst on Day 2-5, and then resolve
  • Illness usually lasts 10-14 days, although a cough can linger for an additional 1-2 weeks
  • Assume your child is contagious – especially with a cough, runny nose and fever
  • It’s not unusual for 6-12 viral illnesses to cycle per year – this is why it sometimes feels like your child is always sick
  • Fever – seek medical care if greater than 104 degrees (or greater than 100.4 in infants). Also, if a fever lasts more than 3 days (more than 24 hours in children under 2), the child is showing weakness or lack of alertness, consult your pediatrician immediately.
  • Breathing – if your child experiences fast or increased work of breathing (nose flaring, chest “sucking in,” wheezing, blue lips, consult your pediatrician immediately.

How to Care for a Sick Child at Home

Not all illnesses require medical attention. Unfortunately, many viral illnesses simply need to run their course. During these times, it is best to concentrate on doing what you can to make your child comfortable.

  • Fever – this is the body’s way of telling you that the immune system is “fighting” an illness or infection. A fever typically occurs 2-5 days into an illness. Comfort your child – cool compresses for fever, bundle up for chills. Fever can be reduced using acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
  • Respiratory – viruses cause an increase of clear mucus which causes sneezing, coughing and congestion. The best treatments for respiratory issues are nasal saline drops or sprays, suction, cool/moist air, and warm liquids to coat the throat. For children out of cribs, try elevating their heads with pillows.
  • Over the Counter Medications – these medications are not recommended for children under 6 years of age, and discouraged for children under 12 years of age.
  • Diet – fluid intake is of greatest importance during an illness. Soft/fluid options like yogurt, jello, and popsicles help to sooth and provide sustenance.

When to Return to School

During this cold and flu season, it is important for parents to help prevent the spread of germs by keeping children home when they are potentially contagious. Although children can return to school with a runny nose or small cough, it is important that they practice healthy habits like covering coughs or wearing a mask.

If your child has been sick, it is recommended that they stay home until they are free from:

  • Fever (without medication) for 24 hours
  • Vomiting for 24 hours
  • Diarrhea for 24 hours
  • Rashes

Health Portals

Please note that right now we are seeing increased volumes of patients. To better serve you, we recommend connecting with your pediatrician through one of our patient portals to:

  • send a message
  • request prescription refills
  • request an in-office or video appointment

For more information about cold and flu season, please consult your pediatric care provider.