Influenza is a viral infection of the respiratory tract. It can occur in epidemic proportions during the winter. Because the structure of the virus may change every two or three years, people will periodically be susceptible to a virus they have never been exposed to before. This creates the possibility of an epidemic outbreak of influenza, or “the flu,” every two to three years. Between epidemics, smaller outbreaks may occur as people or young children not exposed in the last outbreak are infected.

Influenza is very contagious and is spread by contact with an infected person. A person is contagious from about two days before symptoms occur until about the fifth day of the illness. Symptoms of influenza include chills, fever, headache, achiness, fatigue, and lack of appetite.

Treatment is generally directed at alleviating symptoms, which can make the sufferer truly miserable. Although the illness generally runs its course in three to four days, complications such as encephalitis, pneumonia, croup, or seizures can occur. If any of these develop, your child will need immediate medical attention.


  • If your child develops a very high fever, if she has a seizure, or if you notice any changes in her level of consciousness or mental function, seek medical advice immediately. These may be signs that she is developing encephalitis.

  • A child with influenza who has a high fever is at risk for having a seizure.
    If your child has a seizure, call your physician immediately.

  • If your child shows signs of increased respiratory distress, such as an increased respiratory rate, gasping, wheezing, nasal flaring, or a pale or bluish color to the skin, call your doctor. Your child may have developed pneumonia and needs medical attention.

  • Conventional Treatment

    The cornerstones of treatment for influenza are fever control, rest, and plenty of fluids. Acetaminophen (in Tylenol, Tempra, and other medications) or ibuprofen (Advil, Nuprin, and others) can tee used to reduce fever and alleviate achiness.

    Note: In excessive amounts, acetaminophen can cause liver damage. Read package directions carefully so as not to exceed the proper dosage for your child’s age and size. Ibuprofen can cause stomach upset in some children. To avoid this problem, try giving this medication with food.

    Do not give aspirin to a child or
    teenager with the flu. The combination of aspirin and viral infection is
    associated with Reye’s syndrome, a dangerous disease affecting the brain and

    Because influenza is caused by a virus, antibiotics have no effectiveness and are not used. A drug containing amantadine hydrochloride (Symmetrel) is sometimes used in epidemics known to be caused by influenza type A. This drug is effective only if started in the first two days after the onset of symptoms, and it is not used in younger children.

    Dietary Guidelines

    If your child doesn’t feel like eating, it’s best not to force food. Suggest juices, applesauce, soups, and herbal teas.

    All fluids, including soups, help alleviate a respiratory illness. Fluids help to thin secretions, making it easier for the body to clear them. If secretions are thick and dry, they are more difficult to expel. Offer your child diluted juices, homemade lemonade (hot or cold), and lots of nourishing broth and homemade soups. Miso and chicken soup are good choices.

    Avoid giving your child dairy products, which have a tendency to increase and thicken mucus.

    A child with a cold and fever may get dehydrated and constipated. Flush your child’s body with as much fluid as she can take. The constipation will probably resolve once your child starts feeling better and resumes eating a normal diet.

    Nutritional Supplements

    For age-appropriate dosages of nutritional supplements, see Dosage Guidelines for Herbs and Nutritional Supplements.

    Bioflavonoids have potent antiviral properties, and can be useful at any stage of an infection. Give your child one-half dose, five times a day, for five days to one week.

    Vitamin C has anti-inflammatory properties and helps to ease the course of a respiratory illness. Choose a supplement made without sugar, and avoid chewable forms, as these can erode tooth enamel. Give your child one-half dose, five to six times a day, for five days to one week.

    To help boost your child’s immune system, give her a 5-milligram chewable zinc tablet or lozenge, twice daily, for five days to one week.

    Note: Excessive amounts of zinc can result in nausea and vomiting. Be careful not to exceed the recommended dosage.

    Herbal Treatment

    For age-appropriate dosages of nutritional supplements, see Dosage Guidelines for Herbs and Nutritional Supplements.

    Give your child the Chinese botanical formula yin qiao at the first sign of the flu. This remedy is not helpful after the third day of symptoms. Give your child one dose, every two hours, while the symptoms are acute.

    Note: The liquid extract is the preferred form because it contains no aspirin. The tablet form should not be given to a child under four years of age.

    To help your child rest and relax, give her one dose of chamomile tea, twice daily.

    The antiviral echinacea and antibacterial goldenseal both stimulate the immune system. Goldenseal also helps to soothe mucous membranes. Give your child one dose of an echinacea and goldenseal combination remedy, three times daily, for five days.

    Garlic helps to detoxify the body. Give your child one capsule or one fresh clove of garlic, three times a day, until she is better.

    Ginger tea is excellent if your child’s stomach is affected. Give your child one dose as needed.


    At the very first sign of influenza, give your child 1/3 tube of Anas barbariae (marketed under various brand names, including Oscillococcinum) every hour, for a total of three doses.

    For the child who feels chilly, restless, and weak, choose Arsenicum album. This is for a child who feels worse in a cold room, but wants something cold to drink. She will have a red nose with runny nasal secretions that burn the nose and upper lip. When ill, she wants to sit in bed with books, magazines, and a television. This child wants to be left alone, but will demand attention and reassurance every once in a while. When comforted and cuddled, she will quiet down and go to sleep. Give this child one dose of Arsenicum album 30x or 9c, four times a day, for up to three days.

    Bryonia is helpful for a child with a headache, cough, constipation, thirst, and irritability. Give this child Bryonia 30x or 9c, three to four times a day, for up to three days.

    Eupatorium is helpful for the child who complains of a severe aching deep in her bones. She feels sore “everywhere.” Give this child one dose of Eupatorium 12x or 6c, three to four times a day, for up to three days.

    Give Gelsemium to a child who has heavy, droopy eyes and feels weak and tired, with aches and chills up and down her back. This child wants to be alone. Give her one dose of Gelsemium 12x or 6c, three to four times a day, for up to three days.

    Mercurius solubilis is for a lingering flu that just doesn’t seem to go away. This child may have a sore throat, bad breath, and tender, swollen glands. Give her one dose of Mercurius solubilis 12x or 6c, three times a day, for up to three days.

    Rhus toxicodendron is for the restless child who complains of achy, stiff muscles. Give her one dose of Rhus toxicodendron 30x or 9c, three times a day, for up to three days.


    Impatiens helps to ease a child who is whiny,
    impatient, and tired of being sick. Give the remedy three times a day for three


    For the locations of acupressure points on a child’s body, see ADMINISTERING AN ACUPRESSURE TREATMENT.

    Bladder 11, 12, 13, and 14 clear and balance the respiratory system.

    Large Intestine 4 controls the head. This acupressure point relieves congestion and headaches.

    Lung 7 helps to clear upper respiratory tract infections.

    Massaging your child’s feet is comforting and helps to bring energy down from the head to aid healing.

    General Recommendations

    Begin treating your child’s influenza with homeopathics and herbs as soon as symptoms appear.

    Encourage your child to take plenty of fluids.

    Most children naturally want to sleep and rest when suffering through the flu, sparing body energy to fight the virus. A cozy bed and an open window banging in fresh air (when weather permits) will help. Keep your child from getting chilled.

    See also COUGH; FEVER; SINUSITIS; and/or SORE THROAT if your child’s flu is accompanied by these symptoms.


    Flu vaccines are offered yearly. These are sometimes recommended by family physicians for people who are most likely to be exposed to or endangered by the illness, such as health care workers, the elderly, and people with chronic heart, lung, or kidney diseases. The flu shot may cause mild flulike symptoms. Also, since flu vaccines are formulated based on viruses that have caused outbreaks in the past, they may or may not be effective in preventing flu caused by this year’s virus.

    Astragalus helps to build the immune system, and thus make your child less vulnerable to the flu. Give your child one dose, three times a week, during the flu season. You can give this herb in capsule form or added to soup.

    Note: This herb should not be given if a fever or any other signs of infection are present.

    American ginseng helps to boost the immune system and strengthen the body. Give your child one dose, in capsule form or in soup, once or twice a week, during the winter months.

    Echinacea and goldenseal combination formula stimulates the immune system and helps keep the body clear of infections. A liquid extract is the preferred form. You can give your child one dose, twice weekly, during the flu season.

    Give your child one dose of homeopathic Anas barbariae each week or every other week during the flu season.

    Make it a rule to feed your child a low-sweet
    diet and no fried foods. During the flu season, prepare lots of vegetable and
    astragalus soup to help boost her immune system (see THERAPEUTIC RECIPES).

    A child under emotional stress may fall ill more easily. Talk out problems and be supportive of your child during times of emotional turmoil.

    Physical stress can also create bodily imbalances that make a child’s body more vulnerable to illness. Exposure to dust and chemicals, too much sugar and/or fat in the diet, even sudden and extreme temperature changes may add to your child’s susceptibility to illness.

    Vitamin C and bioflavonoids, taken daily, help to prevent colds and flu. Give your child 150 milligrams of each daily during the cold season.

    Dosage Guidelines
    Herbal Medicine
    Bach Flowers

    From Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child by Janet Zand, N.D., L.Ac., Robert Rountree, MD, Rachel Walton, RN, ©1994. Published by Avery Publishing, New York. For personal use only; neither the digital nor printed copy may be copied or sold. Reproduced by permission.

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    Written by Janet Zand LAc OMD

    Explore Wellness in 2021