SAINT ANTHONY – Why are so many children sick right now?
That’s what many parents are wondering as RSV, flu and stomach viruses hit schools and daycare centers this fall.
Dr. Mandie Tibball Svatek, pediatric specialist at University Health and associate professor at UT Health SA answers some of the most frequently asked questions by parents about RSV and other viruses.
*Editor’s note: This Q&A was provided by University Hospital thanks to a partnership between KSAT and UH.
Q: Why do my children keep getting sick?
Svatek: We are currently seeing high rates of many different viruses affecting children in our area, including RSV, influenza A, rhinovirus/enterovirus. Given all the different viruses, places like schools, daycares, stores, restaurants, and other crowded places provide ideal opportunities for a child to have multiple exposures to these different viruses. Given the high number of infection rates, it is not unusual for a child to have one or more viruses. Their symptoms from one illness may not be completely gone before they start having symptoms from another virus.
Q: When can I send my child back to school after being sick?
Svatek: Many schools have their own guidelines for returning to school, so it’s important to call and ask if you’re not sure. It is usually recommended that the child has been fever-free for 24 hours and has no symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea, mouth sores and rashes. The cough and congestion may still be present after some of the common viruses, but as long as other symptoms noted above have subsided, then the cough and congestion may resolve.
Q: They got better and within three days they had a fever again. Can they get the same virus twice?
Svatek: If there are different variants of the virus in the community — like the flu, for example — then there’s the potential for you to get re-infections with those same viruses. This is similar to what is seen with COVID-19 infections. It is also not uncommon for a child to start kindergarten for the first time and develop 8-12 viral respiratory infections in that first year. As the child’s immune system develops, the number of infections usually decreases over time.
Q: When should I take them to the emergency room and when should I take them to urgent care or look for telehealth options?
Svatek: If your child does not look well and has symptoms such as difficulty breathing, intolerance to oral intake, a fever that does not go away after 5 days or worsens, or you observe a change in mental status, then these are signs that they should be taken to the the emergency department.
Q: Is it important to know which virus they had? Should they be swabbed every time they take them to the doctor?
Svatek: No swab needed to identify viruses. If your child has flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, congestion, headache, muscle aches and fatigue and these occur within the first 48 hours of symptoms, then they may be tested or the pediatrician may simply decide without a test to start medication such as Tamiflu , which help shorten the duration of symptoms.
For COVID-19, a parent may choose to have their child tested for the following reasons.
Patients who have symptoms consistent with COVID-19 should be tested immediately.
Patients who are asymptomatic but have had close contact with a person who has confirmed or probable COVID-19 must be tested at least 5 days after the last exposure; however, these patients should be tested immediately if they develop symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
Patients who are required to receive screening tests based on local public health authorities, school districts, or other local organizations should be tested as required.
In general, it is important to contact your child’s healthcare provider to help you make decisions about testing and potential treatments for your child. The health care provider can also give directions for when to return to school and activities in which the child can participate.
Q: How do we boost their immune system?
Svatek: Vaccines like the COVID vaccine and the flu vaccine can provide protection and a shorter duration of symptoms if your child is exposed to these viruses. Keeping your child up-to-date on all vaccines is also extremely important to protect your child from vaccine-preventable diseases. Eating a well-balanced diet is also important for keeping the body healthy.
Q: Once they get sick, what is the best way to get the virus out of their system quickly?
Svatek: It is important to keep the child hydrated during the illness, so it is important to give them plenty of fluids. Treating the fever with fever-reducing medicine can also make the child feel better while the virus is working its way through the body. Allowing the child to rest and not participate in activities will also help make recovery easier.
Q: What can I do to protect my child from illness? Masks? Distancing? Hand hygiene?
Svatek: Different viruses spread in different ways in the air and/or on surfaces. Although not 100% effective, wearing a mask and washing hands can be precautions to protect a child from illness. If a vaccine is available, it is the most effective way to protect against disease.
Q: If one of my children is sick, how do I prevent others in the household from also getting the virus?
Svatek: In your home, it can be difficult to prevent the spread to others, but it’s especially important to have a plan in place to protect young babies, older individuals, and those who may have health problems that could be worsened by illness . You can promote and encourage good hand hygiene at home and clean surfaces that a sick child may have touched. You can also have family members wear a mask and/or have the child wear a mask to potentially reduce the spread to other individuals in the house and separate those individuals who may be susceptible from those who are sick.
Q: Flu transmission was lower than usual during the pandemic because many children wore masks at school and in public. Are we at a point where our children once again have to wear masks to avoid getting the flu and other respiratory infections?
Svatek: Face masks for children over 2 can definitely be considered during this period when viruses like the flu are prevalent in our area. You may also want to consider wearing a mask for children when rates of COVID infection are high, for those children who have weakened immune systems, and to protect other family members who may be at risk in the household. as noted above.
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