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Flu or COVID-19: When to Seek Treatment for Your Child

BIRMINGHAM (Oct. 1, 2020) – Is it flu or COVID-19? That’s a question many parents and caregivers may be asking this fall when a child shows signs of illness.

Symptoms such as fever, muscle aches and a cough are similar in both viral illnesses, so a phone call to the child’s pediatrician or primary care provider will help determine next steps regarding testing for flu or COVID-19. Doctors may also recommend that children who are ill stay home from school and take a break from extracurricular activities so they don’t spread germs to classmates and teachers while they wait for test results.

Getting a flu vaccine — combined with masks, hand washing and social distancing — is the best way to reduce the likelihood of getting sick. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older.

Children’s of Alabama physicians treated more than 70,000 ill and injured patients in its Emergency Department last year, an average of more than 200 a day. Physicians remind parents that with that kind of volume, visiting an emergency room can be counter-productive if you have a non-urgent concern.

Visiting an ED with a viral illness like flu or COVID-19 also exposes children with underlying conditions who can’t fight infection as well as others. The Children’s of Alabama Emergency Department is not a COVID-19 testing site. If your child needs a test, you should contact your pediatrician or primary care provider.

However, Dr. Kathy Monroe, a professor of pediatrics at UAB and the Medical Director of the Children’s of Alabama Emergency Department, said children who are laboring to breathe, have concerns for dehydration such as a low urine output or children who are sick and have a pre-existing medical condition – like asthma, sickle cell disease, diabetes or cancer – should be treated in an ED immediately.

“We advise visiting an emergency department if your child is experiencing respiratory distress, is dehydrated or has an illness when the child also has an underlying medical condition,” Dr. Monroe said, adding that both Children’s and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that children be in the regular care of a primary care physician (pediatrician or family practice physician).

Since 1911, Children’s of Alabama has provided specialized medical care for ill and injured children, offering inpatient and outpatient services throughout central Alabama. Ranked among the best pediatric medical centers in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, Children’s provided care for youngsters from every county in Alabama and 42 other states last year, representing more than 684,000 outpatient visits and more than 15,000 inpatient admissions. With more than 3.5 million square feet, Children’s is one of the largest pediatric medical facilities in the United States. It is a private, not-for-profit medical center that serves as the teaching hospital for the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) pediatric medicine, surgery, psychiatry, research and residency programs. The medical staff consists of UAB faculty and Children’s of Alabama’s full-time physicians as well as private practicing community physicians.