Babies and children * Young people

Swine flu and children

babies and young children are a high risk group Young people are a high risk group

Children under the age of 5 and between the ages of 5 and 14 have been the two age groups hardest hit by swine flu in the UK, so far. In contrast to this, people over the age of 65 are being infected less than usual in a normal flu season.

Why are young people most affected?

Swine flu is caused by a new strain of the H1N1 virus which differs so much from seasonal flu strains that children have no immunity to it. When infected, research has shown that children shed the virus in greater amounts and for a longer period of time than adults.

In schools with 30 children in a class, the virus can spread rapidly between children. At the end of July 2009, just before schools closed for the summer holidays, over 100,000 new cases of swine flu were being reported in one week in the UK. The numbers of new cases fell during the holidays, and increased again once schools opened for the autumn term.

Swine flu symptoms in children

These are similar to those of seasonal flu. Fortunately, most people infected with the virus experience only mild symptoms. However, a minority develop more severe disease.

Mild symptoms of swine flu

In children (and adults), these are similar to ordinary seasonal flu:

  • Sudden fever (body temperature higher than 38 C or 100.4 F)
  • Sudden cough or shortness of breath

As well as some of the following:

  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Chills
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Aching muscles
  • Loss of appetite

Swine flu appears to differ from seasonal flu in that gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea are more common.

Warning signs to look out for

Since the pandemic started, children under the age of 5 have been the age group most likely to be admitted to hospital.

And eighty percent of the children under the age of 14 admitted to hospital had no underlying health problems.

In children, warning signs that swine flu is becoming more severe include:

  • Having trouble breathing, or breathing too fast
  • Bluish or grey coloured skin
  • Difficulty in waking up
  • Lethargy
  • Lacking alertness and not interacting
  • Severe or persisitent vomiting
  • Flu like symptoms which improve, but return again with fever and a worse cough

If your child is experiencing any of these, contact your doctor immediately.

How to take a child's temperature Tamiflu causes side-effects in over 50% of children

TheFamilyGP guide to swine flu

Action plan

For tips on how to be prepared for swine flu, and important contact numbers and sources of information.

Swine flu background

Risk groups

Progress of the disease

This article was published on Fri 17 July 2009

Image © Václav Hroch -

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