Pediatric offices are swamped right now! The first months of the new year always mean children have colds, RSV, flu, vomiting, diarrhea, conjunctivitis and strep throat, just to name a few of the illnesses "lurking" around right now.
What I don't understand is why day care centers and schools send out notices to let parents know of flu, strep, or RSV cases in the class. This just alarms parents, who then become worried that their child has been exposed to a myriad of illnesses.
Of course, parents want to protect their children from germs, but germs are a fact of life and trying to "pinpoint" if your child got a cold from a school mate or someone in their carpool or day care class is really an exercise in futility. It also raises anxiety. Most of the germs we're talking about are airborne and can be picked up almost anywhere. Frustrating, yes; life-threatening, rarely.
Schools do have a responsibility to notify parents if there's a case of meningitis or measles in the class, or even if their child's class has had an outbreak of whooping cough. In some cases, it's appropriate to try and give "prophylactic" antibiotics to kids who have been exposed. These can be truly life-threatening diseases, but thanks to vaccines, bacterial meningitis and measles are rare, and updating pertussis vaccines should help a whooping-cough epidemic. Yes, vaccines really do save lives.
I wish I knew how to calm the anxiety parents feel over the prospect that their child might get sick. If your child has a cold, yes, it could be RSV, but it could also be rhinovirus or parainfluenza virus, and naming the virus doesn't change the treatment.
Most treatment for all of these winter illnesses is totally symptomatic -- which means fluids, fever control, time, and watching. It may take several days for a child to start feeling better. If your child has any difficulty breathing, has color change (remember red is good, blue is BAD) or shows signs of dehydration, they need to be seen by a doctor.
It's also a good idea to call your child's pediatrician and talk to the nurse about their symptoms if you're worried before heading to an emergency room unnecessarily. Save the ER visits for true emergencies, which helps speed up how quickly patients are triaged and seen. There's only about 10 weeks left of "sick season," but who's counting?
(Dr. Sue Hubbard is an award-winning pediatrician, medical editor and media host. "The Kid's Doctor" TV feature can be seen on more than 90 stations across the U.S. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.com. The Kid's Doctor e-book, "Tattoos to Texting: Parenting Today's Teen," is now available from Amazon and other e-book vendors.)
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