What you need to know

  • The flu vaccine is the best way to protect your children, yourself and your whānau from the flu.
  • The flu spreads easily, so keep your little one home if they're sick.
  • Antibiotics are not helpful for the flu, since it's caused by a virus.
  • You can usually care for your child at home if they have the flu, but if they get worse, or you're worried, see a doctor.


The flu, also called influenza, is an infection caused by the influenza virus. It can easily spread from person-to-person through coughing and sneezing, or other objects (toys, cups) in contact with an infected person’s mouth or nose.

The flu is different to a cold

Colds and the flu are both respiratory infections caused by viruses. The simplest way to tell the difference is by the symptoms.

  • Colds start gradually over a few days and are often milder than the flu. A flu comes on suddenly.
  • A cold will improve in seven to 10 days, although symptoms can last for up to two weeks. The cough and tiredness that often come with a flu can last for weeks after the rest of the illness is over.

The flu is different to coronavirus (COVID-19)

The flu and the new coronavirus COVID-19 are both viral infections and respiratory illnesses, but they're caused by different viruses. COVID-19 and flu symptoms can look similar.

For information about COVID-19, visit this page.


Every child’s flu symptoms will be different, but can include:

  • dry, hacking cough that may become moist 
  • moderate to high fever that starts suddenly (not all kids with the flu will have a fever)
  • sore throat
  • shaking chills
  • muscle or body aches
  • headache
  • stuffy and/or runny nose
  • fatigue/tiredness that may last up to two weeks
  • nausea and vomiting, as well as diarrhoea.

Caring for your child at home

Your child will need some extra love and care while they are sick. If your little one is well enough to care for them at home, here are some tips to make them more comfortable and avoid spreading the flu to others:

  • give plenty of fluids
  • allow extra rest
  • provide extra cuddles
  • wash your hands after caring for a sick child so you don’t pass germs along to your family
  • keep your child home from playgroup or pre-school, and keep them home until they are well enough to join the rest of the whānau.

Call PlunketLine if you are worried or have questions about how to care for your child. We are always here to help.


Antibiotics are not helpful for the flu and your doctor won’t prescribe them unless your child also has a bacterial infection. If your child is unwell and you decide to give medication to help relieve symptoms, make sure to:

  • read the label to check how much medicine to give your child, and how often
  • talk to the pharmacist when you buy the medicine to make sure it’s right for your child’s age, weight, and illness.

When to visit a doctor

Visit the doctor if your child:

  • is less than 12 months old
  • was born prematurely and is less than two years old
  • has been in hospital within the last three months
  • has a long-lasting (chronic) health condition.

 See a doctor as soon as possible if your child of any age:

  • looks unwell and you are concerned
  • is sleepy
  • not responding to you as normal and is irritable
  • having difficulty with their breathing, has noisy breathing or is breathing fast
  • has a different cry or crying more
  • refusing to drink or drinking less than normal
  • has fewer wet nappies or is passing less urine than normal
  • has vomiting and or diarrhoea
  • doesn’t seem to be getting better.

If you aren’t sure what to do or need some advice, call PlunketLine anytime to speak with a registered nurse.


The flu vaccine is the best way to protect against the flu. It greatly reduces the chance of getting sick, but it doesn't give 100% protection. Anyone over six months can have the flu vaccine.

It’s important to get a flu immunisation every year. It works best if you get it before the start of winter, between April and June in New Zealand. It takes two weeks after the vaccine to be fully effective.

Influenza immunisation

Ministry of Health

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The Government's principal advisor on health and disability: improving, promoting and protecting the health of New Zealanders.