Ah ah choo!
A cold and flu survival guide for parents.
Juice Staff Published: 6/21/2018
With fall now well underway, cold and flu season is in full effect. Young children are more susceptible to the sniffles, sharing germs at preschool or the playground with the pass of a ball or high-five. Even with the best germ prevention and hand-washing practices, your child is bound to become ill.
When your child starts to show symptoms, it can be difficult to tell what exactly is causing their plight: is this just a common cold, do they have the flu, or is it strep? Should I treat the symptoms at home, or should I call the pediatrician for an appointment? They have a fever: should they stay home from a playdate, daycare, preschool or the park?
Even though all parents worry every time one of their children gets a virus or infection, it is not all bad news. According to Tracy Tyson, MD, a pediatrician with Orange Park Pediatrics. “It’s actually a good thing because kids need these viruses to build up the immune system. We all will get these viruses eventually, and they are much easier to tolerate as a child.”
Experts with Wolfson Children’s Hospital shared with us some key pieces of information to keep in mind as we navigate the school year.
How do you keep germs at bay?
Mark Bedard, DO, with Orange Park Pediatrics said, “Germs are everywhere. Unless we live in a bubble, we cannot avoid them altogether. But you can avoid spreading germs to others.”
Some ways to avoid spreading germs to others include:
- Letting others know when you or your child is sick. Don’t pretend everyone’s well since that could cause those around you to not take proper precautions to avoid your germs.
- Children need to learn how to sneeze and cough into their elbow or at least cover their mouths. Most respiratory bugs spread quite easily when airborne, while other germs like to rest on surfaces and can live there for up to 24 hours.
- Clean and disinfect all surfaces regularly.
- Wash your hands! Hand sanitizer is great and simple, but nothing beats washing with soap and water.
What can you do to strengthen your child's immune system?
When you send your kids to preschool or daycare, exposure to germs and viruses is unavoidable. But, don’t let this deter you from allowing your child to experience the world around them. Dr. Bedard explained, “Exposure to germs is actually the best way to build an immune system – hence, the idea behind immunizations. There are numerous other theories that sound good, but little evidence to support them currently.” Healthy living, along with immunizations, can keep bodies fighting strong.
What’s the difference between a viral infection and a bacterial infection? And, how can we treat them?
Mark Toney, MD, a pediatric hospitalist at Wolfson Children’s Hospital and Nemours Children’s Specialty Care, explained, “Infections are caused when different pathogens enter the body. The two most common types of pathogens are viruses and bacteria. Viruses are microscopic agents that live and replicate inside a human cell. Bacteria are single-celled organisms that unlike human cells have a cell wall.”
To keep in simple, just remember that a cold and the flu are viruses, and illnesses like a strep and whooping cough are bacterial infections.
What does that mean? “Treating a viral infection versus a bacterial infection is very different,” explained Dr. Toney. “Most viral infections are cared for with over-the-counter medication, while bacterial infections are treated primarily with antibiotics to target the bacteria and either kill it or keep it from replicating.”
Can you feel the temperature rising?
For some, with a cold or other infection comes a fever. Many preschools and daycare centers have a strict rule that the child must be fever-free for 24 hours without the use of over-the-counter medicine before returning to school.
Why? “A fever is typically the easiest way to know if you or your child is sick,” said Dr. Bedard. “It is an obvious symptom that does not require the child to be verbal, it is not vague, and it is measurable via a thermometer at home. This helps parents to know when to keep their children home to help prevent the spread of germs.”
When should you take your child to the pediatrician or the emergency room? Or should you stay home?
You have determined your child is sick—he has a fever and just is not acting like himself. Will the over-the-counter remedy be enough? Or is it a bacterial infection, like strep, that requires an antibiotic for treatment?
Anthony Pohlgeers, MD, a pediatric emergency medicine physician with the Wolfson Children’s Emergency Centers, encouraged, “Trust your gut. Your pediatrician can help diagnose your child as well as provide treatment recommendations. But, ultimately, if you think it’s an emergency, don’t hesitate, and just call 911. You know your child best.”