A sniffle, sneeze or cough can set off alarm bells these days for families with young children.
Vickie Leon, a mother of two, said her children, aged 4 and 2, could sometimes go a month or two without bringing anything home from daycare. Then there are times when it seems the family in Aurora, Colorado is sniffing out a virus every two weeks.
“Once that happens, we’re just in it for a while,” she said.
Many children have spent years socially distancing to protect themselves against Covid-19, and now healthcare systems are overloaded with cases of the RSV respiratory virus – which can cause a runny nose, decreased appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever and wheezing.
Viral infection has always been common. Almost all children get RSV at some point before age 2, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the immunity developed after infection often wanes over time, leading people to have multiple infections over their lifetime, said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. in Nashville, Tennessee.
The public health challenge this year is that while many children have been kept home to protect against Covid-19, they have also been isolated RSV, which means more are having their first – and therefore most serious – infection now, said Dr. Leana Wen, CNN medical analyst, emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.
An RSV infection is often mild but could be a cause for concern for young infants, children with underlying illnesses and older adults, said Schaffner, who is also medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. .
That doesn’t mean it’s time to panic, added Wen, who is also the author of “Lifelines: A Doctor’s Journey in the Fight for Public Health.” Catching RSV and other viral and bacterial infections is part of the growth and development of children’s immune systems.
Here’s how to assess when to keep your child home and when to visit the pediatrician, according to experts.
Between the common cold, the flu, strep throat, RSV and persistent Covid-19, there are plenty of infections swirling around this winter — and they can often look very similar in terms of symptoms, Schaffner said. Even astute doctors can have trouble telling them apart when a patient is in the office, he added.
However, pediatricians are well trained and equipped to treat upper respiratory tract infections, although it’s not possible to distinguish exactly which virus or bacteria is the cause, Wen said.
Whatever virus or bacteria is causing sniffles, headaches or a sore throat in your household, your child’s age, symptoms and health will likely make a difference in how you will proceed, she said.
Ideally, public health professionals would like no child with symptoms to be sent to school or daycare, where they could potentially spread infections, Schaffner said. But — especially for single parents or caregivers who need to be at work – that’s not always the most practical advice, he added.
Home tests can flag whether a child has a Covid-19 infection, he added. But for other viruses like a cold, there may not be a good way to know for sure.
Some symptoms that could really signal that it’s time to keep your child home from school or daycare include high fever, vomiting, diarrhea, eating disorders, poor sleep or breathing problems, Wen said.
Donna Mazyck, registered nurse and executive director of the National Association of School Nurses, breaks it down into two main considerations: does the child have a fever and is he too sick to fully engage in learning ?
Families should also check their school’s guidelines, some of which may be detailed on when a child should be kept home from school, while others will rely more on parental judgment, a- she declared.
“When in doubt, consult school policies and have a plan with a pediatrician,” Wen said.
And for children at higher risk due to other medical conditions, see your pediatrician before your child gets sick so you know what to look for.
Again, this is where schools may have different policies and it becomes important to check with written information, a school administrator or a school nurse, Wen said.
“Generally, schools will request that the child be fever-free without the use of anti-fever medication” before returning to school. class, she said.
For children with asthma or allergies, it may not be reasonable to keep them out of school whenever they show symptoms of coughing or sniffling, Wen said. This could very well keep them out half the year.
And some symptoms, such as a continuous cough, may persist as an infection clears and a child recovers. In those cases, it may be appropriate to send a child back to school, Mazyck said, reiterating that it’s important to check school guidelines.
Families are often good at taking their children to the pediatrician when they seem sick, Schaffner said. Still, With so much going on, it’s important to remind families that doctors would rather see children who aren’t feeling well sooner than later, he added.
If they seem lethargic, stop eating or have difficulty breathing, parents and caregivers would also be justified in taking their children to the pediatrician and seeking medical attention, especially if symptoms worsen, Schaffner said.
“It’s not something they should shy away from,” he said.
For babies and younger infants, it may be time to go to the ER if they are having trouble absorbing fluids or have dry diapers, flared nostrils, difficulty breathing, and chest tightness. contracts when it should expand, Wen added.
Families should seek emergency treatment for school-aged children who have trouble breathing and speaking in full sentences, Wen said. Fortunately, most won’t need emergency treatment — and those who do are usually back home and well within a few days, Schaffner said.
“Parents should know that treating RSV and other respiratory infections is the bread and butter of pediatricians and emergency physicians,” Wen said. “This is what we do.”
To prevent these respiratory diseases, teach your children to use the hygiene practices recommended by health professionals. long before the pandemic, such as washing your hands, using hand sanitizer when a sink is not available, coughing and sneezing into an elbow or tissue, and not sharing food or utensils with friends , Wen said.
There is not yet an RSV vaccine approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, but there are effective ones against influenza and Covid-19, Schaffner said.
If your child is not yet vaccinated, talk to their doctor about protection against these viruses, he added.
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