It’s week four and Dylan, my four year old, is still coughing. He’s very slow to improve, but he’s finally getting there. One of the most tedious things to deal with over the winter season is the constant influx of infections that a toddler endures. And it never ends with just the kid; it spreads throughout the house like a wildfire. It starts with Dylan, and before I know it, I’m the one dealing with the cough or worse yet, my father-in-law, who is eighty years old, is dealing with it. Minor colds can be devastating in children and elderly folks, potentially ending in a hospital stay for a pneumonia or respiratory distress. I think back to how it all begins and it is almost always traced back to the jungle gym at Dylan’s school or at the park across the street. When I’m there with him, not a time goes by where I don’t see a kid either picking his nose, or scratching her butt, or sneezing into their hands, or digging in the sand, or worst of all, sharing a lollipop.
The playground is a breeding ground for all sorts of viruses and nasty germs. Thinking about it makes me want to bathe in sanitizing liquid. That being said, however, it’s important to understand that children have very naive immune systems and that any exposure to these germs is actually a good thing to a certain degree. In the same way vaccines are administered to safely mature a child’s immunity, these viruses help a child’s immunity grow and develop, ultimately setting them up for their adult years.
Some common viruses that children may encounter range in their presentation. Here are five common illnesses one may encounter in the jungle gym and how they may present. While most of these viruses are benign, some can progress and its important to keep a close eye on any child that is dealing with an acute illness.
The first is the common cold. Among others, the most common viruses responsible for this are the rhinovirus, coronavirus, RSV and parainfluenza viruses. While there are lots of viruses that account for the common cold, they are all treated the same way, with time, rest, fluids and limiting exposure to others. Not antibiotics. Some of these viruses are more common in Spring versus Winter. Some of these viruses can be more serious than others, like RSV and parainfluenza, potentially leading to pneumonia. If a child exhibits any signs of respiratory distress, seek medical attention immediately. Remember that the cold and the flu are two different entities and that the flu may have much more dire consequences in terms of severity, which is why getting a flu vaccine is always a good idea.
The second is fifth’s disease or Slapped Cheek Syndrome. This is caused by the parvovirus and typically presents similar to a cold. The one defining trait of this illness are rosy colored cheeks that may mimic the appearance of a slapped cheek. This is a highly contagious infection, so it’s important to limit exposure to others when this is suspected. Analgesics and antipyretics can aid in treatment, along with adequate hydration and rest.
The third common illness is called Hand, Foot and Mouth disease (HFMD). It is caused by the coxasackie virus and is also quite contagious and is transmitted through saliva. Along with the generalized fatigue and mild fever that can accompany any viral illness, HFMD distinguishes itself by the appearance of painful lesions and ulcers on the soles of the feet, palms, and mouth area. The rash can sometimes also present in the groin area. Topical analgesics like a benzocaine can sometimes numb areas that are painful. It will typically clear up in a 2 week period.
Croup is the next viral infection which is caused by a parainfluenza virus. Croup typically mimics a cold initially, but then progresses to a hacking, barking cough. The main concern is that typically with this type of virus, the airway can be compromised, leading to a listless, restless child, struggling to breath. Doctors will sometimes prescribe steroids to help decrease the inflammation and also have patients undergo breathing treatments to help.
The fifth and final illness is sixth’s disease, or roseola. Why is fifth’s disease second and sixth’s disease fifth? Just like in medicine sometimes, that’s just how it is. No rhyme or reason. Roseola is characterized by a high fever and rash that typically affects the chest and back. It is caused by a herpes virus and interestingly, can lay dormant in the body for life. The high fever can be dangerous as this can lead to a febrile seizure. Antipyretics are extremely important in the management of this, but in the event of a seizure, seek medical attention immediately.
There are many other viral infections out there that can ruin a good two weeks of a child and parent’s life. Taking the proper precautions can help prevent a disaster. Hand washing and sanitizing is the first and foremost way of limiting spread of an infection. And as a friendly reminder, vaccines save lives and prevent ancient, supposedly dead diseases from returning. To new parents out there, welcome to the jungle. Don’t let it bring you to your knees.
Post by: Dr. Juan Borja
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