DOCTOR IS IN: When flu is, and isn’t, an emergency


Pediatrician-in-Chief, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

The first thing on many parents’ minds right now is how to protect their children from the flu. And, time after time, parents bring children with flu symptoms to the emergency room when it’s not an emergency.

While H1N1 flu is a new strain, at present it is acting just like a mild-to-moderate case of the flu with the same type of outcomes as seasonal influenza.

Parents should take away that H1N1 title and name, and think of this as the flu. Think of it this way: “If this was the regular flu, would I be going to the emergency room?”

The symptoms of H1N1 flu in people are similar to the symptoms of seasonal flu and include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and coughing. Some people with H1N1 flu also have reported runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

The great majority of children don’t have a level of illness that needs medication or requires hospitalization, and can be managed with over-the-counter symptom treatments.

Routine cases of the flu are best handled by a child’s pediatrician. It may not even be necessary to make a health care visit. Online flu assessments can be helpful for parents in determining best next steps.

Some children can get sicker with H1N1 flu, just like they can with other types of flu. The key is treating your child as an individual.

There are times when a trip to the emergency room is in order, such as a child under three months of age with a fever over 102 degrees.

Children having difficulty breathing or a child who is dehydrated should visit the emergency room.

If your child is having trouble keeping liquids down – if they’re dry and not making tears, that can be another sign of trouble.

Finally, if a child is sluggish and not waking up well, that might indicate a need to visit the emergency room or a call to your pediatrician.

Families of children with certain conditions, such as chronic lung disease, diabetes or immune suppression, should contact their family physician for advice.

If you do have to visit the emergency room, leave healthy siblings at home so as not to expose them to germs in the waiting room and other areas in the hospital.

The best way to protect children is through vaccines. New vaccines are made each year for the types of flu that world experts think will be around that year.

Children need a new vaccine each year. Seasonal flu vaccines are given in September or October and are advised for all children from 6 months to 19 years of age. Flu shots are given with a needle and contain a dead virus.

This year, there will be an additional vaccine available for the H1N1 strain of flu as well.  In late August, physician/researchers at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory University began vaccinating children in a clinical trial testing an investigational H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine along with the seasonal flu vaccine.

Up to 650 children nationally participated in the study, with approximately 100 children, ages six months to 18 years, in the Atlanta trials.

The H1N1 vaccine is expected to be available mid-October, and you will hear more advice about taking that one as it gets closer to readiness.

In addition to receiving the appropriate vaccines, the best way to prevent spread is by staying away from others when sick, performing frequent hand hygiene and covering your coughs and sneezes.

Visit for regularly updated information about the flu.

  • (Information provided by Children’s Healthcare on this site is intended solely for general educational purposes and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other health provider for any questions you may have regarding your health and medical condition. If you rely on any information available through this website, you do so at your own risk. You understand that you are solely responsible for any damage or loss you may incur that results from your use of or reliance on any material or information provided by Children’s Healthcare through this website.)
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6 comments Add your comment


September 8th, 2009
5:26 pm

Enter your comments hereregarding the H1N1 swine flu. Results showed that physicians are taking a more precautionary approach to protect against the H1N1 virus, including washing their hands more frequently and avoiding crowded events.. For more in-dept results, please visit


September 9th, 2009
7:23 am

Stay home if your sick and keep your kids home until they are fever free for a full 24 hours.


September 9th, 2009
9:25 am

My son had a fever last Friday of 101, I picked him up from school and his fever never went higher than this, therefore I did not take him to the doctor. Over the holiday and weekend he has since recovered, but he still has a cough and sneeze. I received a letter from my son’s elementary school saying that if a swine flu outbreak occurs be prepared to stay home with your kids from 4 to 12 weeks??? I asked specifically were there any documented cases of swine flu and they will not give me a straight answer. I can surely understand their concern, but I sure hope that if this were to occur that their is some form of mandates in place for employers as well. I mean, both my husband and I work outside the home, I cannot see my employer being this flexible unless they are mandated to do so.


September 9th, 2009
9:47 am

its all a government conspiracy to enact marshall law.


September 9th, 2009
4:26 pm

I’ve seen Outbreak. I know what to do if I get sick…..Run like hell before the military locks me in my town.

ATL Medic

September 10th, 2009
12:45 pm

Please do not call 911 and request an ambulance if you think you have the flu. That in itself is NOT an emergency! You do not need to go to an emergency room nor do you need to be tested for the flu. Stay home and rest, drink plenty of liquids, take OTC medications for pain and fever and let it run its course.