Beware winter’s many respiratory bugs

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By Dr. Jay Rabinowitz; founder of Parker Pediatrics and Adolescents
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Winter is winding down on the calendar, but the cold-weather illnesses seem to be cropping up late this year and may be present for a while longer. Each year during this season, we see several illnesses that we know will occur in epidemic fashion. All are contagious, especially in schools and daycares. Here are some of the more common ones:

Bronchiolitis

Bronchiolitis-- usually caused by RSV (or respiratory syncitial virus)-- occurs mainly from January to March and is commonly characterized by wheezing (noisy breathing with exhalation), as well as fevers and ear infections.

This bug can be particularly serious for infants and is a leading cause of hospitalization at this age. In older children it may just seem like a cold, or lead to asthma exacerbations.

Typically, Bronchiolitis can last 5-7 days. Treatment consists of nasal suctioning and fluids, but oxygen may be necessary if symptoms get worse.

Influenza

Influenza has been mild this winter, but many for many years it is a leading cause of serious illness in children.

Characterized by a sudden onset of fever, chills, muscle aches, tiredness, and cough, Influenza can generally last a week and is very uncomfortable.

Treatment is usually symptomatic and includes rest, fluids, pain and cough remedies. Antiviral medication, like Tamiflu, are not as helpful as most think, and can be associated with serious side effects in children.

The flu shot, however, is effective and safe.

Croup

A virus that usually occurs more during the fall or early winter, Croup most commonly affects 2 to 6-year-olds.

Often, you can recognize this illness by the barky cough with stridor (noisy breathing while taking in a breath) that accompanies it. It is worse at night.

Croup sounds terrible, but is usually not as serious as the previously mentioned illnesses. A vaporizer and helping a child relax while sitting in a hot, steamy bathroom, or taking your child outside in the cold air, will usually relieve symptoms quickly.

Strep throat

Expect strep throat to linger throughout this winter and spring.

Watch for common symptoms such as a sore throat, fever, headache, and stomachache, but not congestion or a cough.

Kids 4 to 11-years-old are affected most commonly.

Have a throat culture performed to determine a definite positive for this illness. Approximately 20 percent of sore throats in our area will be positive (the rest are viral). Antibiotics quickly cure this illness.

*Several other viruses make the rounds each winter leading to generic upper-respiratory infections (colds). Most children will have up to six a year. Treatment is symptomatic, including rest, fluids, and fever control if needed. Complications of upper-respiratory infections (as well as some of the above mentioned illnesses) can occur such as pneumonia, sinusitis, ear infections, and conjunctivitis (pink eye). In those cases, antibiotics may be needed to treat those.