It’s that time of year: sneezing, sniffles and fevers. Now that kids are settled back in school or in daycare, they are also passing each other seasonal illnesses.
Dr. A. Gabriel Schifman, Medical Director of The Pediatric ER at Overland Park Regional Medical Center - a part of HCA Midwest Health - says he and his colleagues are seeing an increase in sick kids.
“Since school has started, we have seen a 100 percent increase in patients coming into our Pediatric ER,” Schifman says. “We’re seeing high fevers, bronchiolitis, flu and other common seasonal illnesses.”
Here are the top 5 illnesses that Dr. Schifman is treating in the Pediatric ER and how parents can avoid them.
- RSV: Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common childhood illness that affects the respiratory system. In most children and adults, it causes mild cold-like symptoms including fever, coughing, runny nose, and sneezing. However, in young infants and older adults, it can be more serious. It can cause inflammation in the airways and result in pneumonia.
“The best piece of advice for avoiding the spread of RSV in babies particularly newborns is for everyone in the family to wash their hands often especially when coming from school or daycare centers where the virus is easily spread,” Dr. Schifman says. “Avoid visiting crowded areas with your newborn baby. Don’t hold someone else’s newborn baby if you have any cold symptoms and don’t let anyone who is coughing or sneezing hold your baby even if they insist that it’s “just allergies.”
- Influenza: Symptoms include fever, sore throat, fatigue, body aches, and chills. Most cases can be treated at home by managing symptoms with medication, fluids, and rest.
“You can reduce the risk of you and your children getting the flu by making sure everyone gets a flu vaccine each year,” Dr. Schifman says. “Getting the flu shot can lower your risk for the most common strains. And it may reduce the severity and duration of flu symptoms if you do get sick.”
- Parainfluenza: This is a group of viruses that cause different types of respiratory infections and are most common in children and infants. The viruses range from the common cold, to ear infections to croup and viral pneumonia.
“Most children will develop parainfluenza before they are 5-years-old,” Dr. Schifman says. “We commonly see runny nose, barky cough, fever and stridor. These viruses are very contagious and transmitted from a sneeze, but can also be caught by coming in contact with infectious material then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.”
Dr. Schifman says the flu shot does not prevent parainfluenza, but you can prevent it by washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, avoiding touching your eyes, nose, or mouth and avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
- COVID: “We are seeing a slight increase of children coming in with COVID symptoms and end up testing positive for the virus,” Dr. Schifman says.
“Parents and caregivers should look for signs of difficulty breathing, such as fast or hard breathing or using extra breathing muscles. Look for extra breathing muscle use around the ribs, neck and nose. Look for blueish discoloration around the lips or fingers. If you see that their child is having difficulty breathing they should be evaluated urgently by a physician.”
Dr. Schifman says vaccinating a child is best way to contribute overall to lowering the spread in our community, and kids can play an important role in ending this pandemic.
“Vaccinated people are less likely to get infected, and when infected, they are less likely to transmit the virus to others,” Dr. Schifman says. “Vaccination is a good idea for children because they will interact with other people besides their parents.”
- Enterovirus/rhinovirus: These viruses can range from a routine cold to more serious asthma-like symptoms with wheezing and difficulty breathing. Infants, children with asthma and those with weak immune systems have a greater chance of breathing problems and complications.
“These viruses are more common in young kids as spread by touching objects or surfaces that have the virus on them and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes,” Dr. Schifman says.
Dr. Schifman recommends preventing these viruses by washing hands often, avoid hugging, kissing, and sharing cups or eating utensils with people who are sick, and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick.
“The best piece of advice is if you want to avoid getting sick is wash your hands, wear a mask in public areas and keep your distance from sick people,” Dr. Schifman says.