Tis the season for the common cold and other easily spread illnesses that affect children. The lead hospitalist from Doylestown Health’s Della Penna Pediatric Center sheds light on these common fall and winter illnesses.
Children usually get as many as eight or more colds per year. The common cold is the number one reason children visit the doctor and stay home from school. A cold is a viral infection that causes runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, cough and headache. Colds, like other illnesses that circulate seasonally, are contagious and seem to peak during fall and winter.
"People are inside more in the cold weather months so they are in closer contact than other times of the year," said Jason Komasz, MD, lead pediatric hospitalist for Doylestown Health’s Carol and Louis Della Penna Pediatric Center.
Contrary to common myth, colds are not caused by the cold weather. A virus causes a cold. Not wearing a coat outside, sleeping in a draft and going outdoors with wet hair are not causes of colds. However, dry air indoors or outside can lower resistance to infection by cold viruses, as can being around someone who is smoking.
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)
Respiratory syncytial virus, also known as RSV, is a virus that causes infection of the lungs and airways. RSV is a major cause of respiratory illness in young children. Symptoms usually start out like those of the common cold and can get worse with wheezing, difficulty breathing and dehydration.
RSV is very contagious and can spread quickly through a school or childcare center. Almost all kids get RSV at least once by the time they are 2 years old. The RSV virus can cause bronchiolitis, a common illness of the respiratory tract. RSV infections cause more than half of all cases of bronchiolitis and are most widespread in the winter and early spring.
Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a highly contagious viral infection of the respiratory tract. Kids, in particular preschool or school-aged children, tend to get the flu more often than adults. Flu symptoms are usually worse than those of the common cold and may include fever, chills, headache, muscle ache, fatigue and cough. Healthy people, especially children, generally get over the flu in about a week or two.
"The best way to prevent getting the flu is to have a flu vaccine every year," said Dr. Komasz. "Children ages 6 months and older should get the flu vaccine each year."
Even though winter is around the corner, it’s not too late to get a flu vaccine. About 80 percent of all flu illness generally occurs in January, February, and March.Still, getting a flu vaccine earlier in the fall (September to mid-November) helps protect children for the season.
Pneumonia is caused by an infection from a virus or occasionally from a bacteria. The infection occurs in one or both of the lungs. Colds or flu that get worse can become pneumonia and cause cough, fever, headache and sometimes stomach pain.
Pneumonia can cause difficulty breathing or rapid breathing. If a child is straining or struggling to breathe, it’s time to seek medical attention. A doctor may order a chest X-ray if pneumonia is suspected.
Keep In Mind
Children should avoid close contact with other kids and adults who have been infected with a virus. Another important way to prevent the spread of illness is to practice good hand washing or hand hygiene.
"Hand washing is always important in any season," said Dr. Komasz. "Kids should be taught from a young age to wash their hands correctly, particularly after they blow their nose."
Teaching a child to sneeze or cough into a tissue or the bend of their elbow can also help reduce the spread of colds and flu.
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