Don't travel when your kids are sick
Alas, the holidays coincide with the start of cold and flu season. (Fotolia.com / December 25, 2012)
During the holiday season, I haven't been the most popular doctor on town. Just call me Scrooge.
The holidays fall right at the beginning of the winter "sick season." A pediatrician's office is always busy anyway, and the pace picks up even more as families are trying to get out of town for family visits, or struggling to get well in time to host out-of-town guests. This time of year creates a perfect storm for the spread of germs.
I've found myself having to be the "bad guy" by recommending that families cancel their flights and car trips to see the grandparents, or even holiday vacations to far-away destinations when children are too sick to travel. The majority of these patients have one of the several upper respiratory viral infections.
These days, I'm seeing young patients with rhinovirus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), meta-pneumovirus and the first few influenza cases of the year. These viruses may sometimes cause children to wheeze, and some of the sicker ones may even need to be hospitalized.
In most cases, sick children can be treated at home with rest and lots of fluids. Some may need nebulizer treatments to help their breathing. For those in the hospital, the treatment is the same, although hospitalized kids typically need oxygen. Much of the "treatment" is really about letting the virus run its course. Of course, this can be frustrating, as there's no doctor around to tell you what a virus is going to do.
Since you can never tell when and if a sick child's breathing will deteriorate, I had to recommend that several families cancel their trips this year. The question is, what if you were in the middle of a plane flight at 30,000 feet and your child, who'd already been coughing and wheezing, suddenly turned blue? The risk is too high.
I was forced to put a child in the hospital who'd travelled from out of town to visit family, but whose condition worsened on arrival. There the poor kid was, in the hospital far from home, dreams of a family reunion squelched unless everyone could fit into a tiny room and wear a mask (not a great scene for the family album).
All of this being said, I know these children will ultimately be fine and their trips and activities can be re-scheduled, but disappointment is never fun, especially during holidays.
So, if your child is sick and your doctor recommends you stay home or change your plans, just remember that the doctor feels as badly about it as you do!
(Dr. Sue Hubbard is a nationally known pediatrician and co-host of "The Kid's Doctor" radio show. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.com.)