Fall and winter bring changing leaves, snow flurries and, of course, seasonal viruses. It’s normal for children to get sick, but the risk of COVID-19 adds extra anxiety this time of year.
Illnesses to Watch
There are several common viruses parents should be on the lookout for this fall and winter:
COVID-19: The three primary symptoms are fever, cough and shortness of breath, but children also can experience muscle aches, vomiting, diarrhea or loss of taste and smell.
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV): Symptoms include runny nose, cough, sneezing, fever or wheezing.
Influenza: A flu virus can last from five to seven days, causing a high fever, runny nose, nasal congestion, fatigue or muscle aches.
Viral gastroenteritis: This virus brings on fever, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease: The coxsackievirus causes itchy bumps on the hands, feet, mouth and buttocks, along with fever.
When it comes to respiratory viruses, “It can be very hard to tell if it’s just RSV, flu or, now, COVID because all of the symptoms kind of run together,” says Dr. Kyle Mudd, a pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic. “This year, we anticipate that children presenting this way will be tested for the three, depending on their age.”
What to do When Your Child is Sick
The No. 1 thing to watch? Fever. “We are recommending that parents check temperature, especially if a child is sick,” Mudd says. If your child has a fever above 100.4, they shouldn’t go to school or daycare. Another concern? Symptoms that don’t improve or get worse over time.
Parents should be proactive with their child’s health. “This year especially, I would not wait on symptoms,” says Mudd, “It’s much better to go ahead and see the physician and get reassurance rather than progressing into a severe illness.”
If your child is ill, the first step is to call your pediatrician’s office, rather than visiting in person. That way, you’re limiting exposure to your child and the community. Many times, your doctor will be able to order testing over the phone or during a virtual visit.
Tips for Staying Healthy
- Get the flu shot. Almost everyone should get the flu vaccination this year. It’s especially crucial for children with preexisting conditions. “Influenza can be a lot more severe than what many parents give it credit for,” Mudd says. “The vaccine is widely available now.”
- Make healthy choices. Changes to school, activity and work routines can be stressful. Still, one of the best ways to stay healthy year-round is to eat right, exercise and get enough sleep.
- Clean high-touch areas. Germs can live on high-traffic surfaces such as tables, handles, switches, keyboards, remotes or bathrooms. Wipe down these areas frequently to help prevent the spread of infection.
- Model safe behaviors for your children. “What parents do, kids are going to do,” Mudd says. Set a positive example and follow the advice of health experts by frequently washing your hands and practicing social distancing.
- Stay up to date on immunizations and wellness check-ups. Parents should feel confident bringing their child in for a well-check and immunizations. “We have safe systems in place to see children in the office,” Mudd says. “We still have many illnesses out there, like measles, pertussis or whooping cough, that can be deadly for children.”
Flu and COVID-19 have similar symptoms and it’s not possible to tell the difference based on symptoms alone. If your child is not feeling well and you’re unsure if their symptoms are flu or COVID-19, call your pediatrician. He or she can let you know what to do next and if your child should be tested for the flu or COVID-19. If your pediatrician determines your child needs to get tested for COVID-19, he or she can help direct you to an appropriate testing site.
Source: Cleveland Clinic