Category: Childhood Infections

Treating the Flu and Hard to Control Flu Symptoms

It is much easier to prevent the flu with a flu shot than to try and treat the flu after you get sick.
It is much easier to prevent the flu with a flu shot than to try and treat the flu after you get sick.

Unfortunately, like most upper respiratory tract infections, the flu is not easy to treat.

What are Flu Symptoms?

While a cold and the flu can have similar symptoms, those symptoms are generally more intense and come on more quickly when you have the flu.

These flu symptoms can include the sudden onset of:

  • fever and chills
  • dry cough
  • chest discomfort
  • runny nose or stuffy nose
  • sore throat
  • headache
  • body aches
  • feelings of fatigue

And more rarely, vomiting and diarrhea.

In contrast, cold symptoms come on more gradually and are more likely to include sneezing, stuffy nose, sore throat, and mild to moderate coughing. A cold is also less likely to include a headache, fatigue, chills, or aches. And while either might have fever, it will be more low grade with a cold.

As with other infections, flu symptoms can be very variable. While some people might have a high fever, chills, body aches, constant coughing, and can hardly get out of bed, others might have a low grade fever and much milder symptoms.

That variability also applies to how long the flu symptoms might last. Some people are sick for a good 7 to 10 days, while others start to feel better in just a few days.

Treating Flu Symptoms

Although there aren’t many good treatments for the flu, that variability in flu symptoms makes it hard to even know if any you try really work.

For kids older than 4 to 6 years and adults, you could treat symptoms as necessary, including the use of decongestants and cough suppressants.

And of course, almost everyone might benefit from pain and fever relievers, drinking extra fluids, and rest, etc.

Treating the Flu

In addition to symptomatic flu treatments, there are also antiviral drugs that can actually help treat your flu infection.

These flu medications include oseltamivir (Tamiflu), zanmivir (Relenza), and peramivir (Rapivab). Of these, oral Tamiflu is the most commonly used. It can also be used to prevent the flu if taken before or soon after you are exposed to someone with the flu.

“If liquid Tamiflu is not available and you have capsules that give the right dose (30 mg, 45 mg or 75 mg), you may pull open the Tamiflu capsules and mix the powder with a small amount of sweetened liquid such as regular or sugar-free chocolate syrup. You don’t have to use chocolate syrup but thick, sweet liquids work best at covering up the taste of the medicine.”

FDA – Tamiflu: Consumer Questions and Answers

Unfortunately, these flu drugs are not like antibiotics you might take for a bacterial infection. You don’t take Tamiflu and begin to feel better in day or two. Instead, if you take it within 48 hours of the start of your flu symptoms, you might “shorten the duration of fever and illness symptoms, and may reduce the risk of complications from influenza.”

At best, you are likely only going to shorten your flu symptoms by less than a day. And considering the possible side effects of these medications and their cost, they are often reserved for high risk patients, including:

  • children who are less than 2 years old
  • adults who are at least 65 years old or older
  • anyone with chronic medical problems, including asthma, diabetes, seizures, muscular dystrophy, morbid obesity, immune system problems, and those receiving long-term aspirin therapy, etc.
  • pregnant and postpartum women
  • anyone who is hospitalized with the flu
  • anyone with severe flu symptoms

That means that most older children and teens who are otherwise healthy, but have the flu, don’t typically need a prescription for Tamiflu. The current recommendations don’t rule out treating these kids though.

“Antiviral treatment also can be considered for any previously healthy, symptomatic outpatient not at high risk with confirmed or suspected influenza on the basis of clinical judgment, if treatment can be initiated within 48 hours of illness onset.”

Antiviral Agents for the Treatment and Chemoprophylaxis of Influenza – Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the use of Tamiflu and other anti-viral flu medications, with some studies and many experts thinking that they should rarely be used, if ever, stating that they are not as useful as others claim. Others state that while they not perfect, they are all we have, and there is enough evidence to recommend their use.

Treating Hard to Control Flu Symptoms

Instead of learning about treating hard to control flu symptoms, which might require medical attention, it is probably much more important to learn how to recognize these severe flu symptoms that might be hard to control.

Your child’s flu might be getting worse and require quick medical attention if you notice:

  • fast or hard breathing
  • complaints of chest pain
  • that it is hard to wake up your child
  • irritability to the point that your child is not consolable
  • signs of dehydration because your child won’t drink any fluids
  • that your child is complaining of being dizzy or is feeling lightheaded

You might also need to seek medical attention if your child with the flu was getting better, but then worsens again, with the return of a fever and more severe coughing, etc.

What to Know About Treating the Flu and Flu Symptoms

In addition to basic symptomatic care for your child’s flu symptoms, including the fever, cough, and runny nose, etc., Tamiflu can be an option to treat high risk kids with the flu.

And remember that it is recommended that everyone who is at least six months old should get a yearly flu vaccine.

More Information on Treating Hard to Control Flu Symptoms

Treating Hard to Control RSV

With a cough, wheezing, and trouble breathing that can linger for weeks, all RSV infections probably seem like they are hard to control, especially since up to 2% of kids, mostly high-risk infants, with RSV require hospitalization.

Still, it’s important to remember that for many kids, RSV is just a cold.

Understanding RSV

Since there is no cure or treatment, it is best to learn to protect your kids from RSV.
Since there is no cure or treatment, it is best to learn to protect your kids from RSV.

The first thing to understand about RSV is that it isn’t a disease.

Instead, RSV, or the respiratory syncytial virus, can cause many different kinds of upper and lower respiratory infections, ranging from the common cold and croup to bronchiolitis and viral pneumonia.

And almost all kids get sick with RSV at some point during the first few years of their life, especially if they are in daycare.

Fortunately, although RSV can cause life-threatening infections, especially in high-risk infants, the great majority of  children get over their symptoms without any special treatments.

And infants who are the most high risk, including premature babies who were born at less than 29 weeks, can get five monthly doses of palivizumab (Synagis) during RSV reason to reduce their chances of getting sick. Infants with hemodynamically significant heart disease or chronic lung disease of prematurity can also get palivizumab.

Treating RSV

Many of the classic treatments for RSV have now fallen out of favor with pediatricians. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatricians now advises against using albuterol breathing treatments, epinephrine, steroids, or chest physiotherapy (CPT) for infants with RSV bronchiolitis.

What’s left?

Not much, except pushing your child to drink and treating cold symptoms as possible.

The AAP even advises against routinely testing kids for RSV. That makes sense, since there is no treatment, kids can sometimes be contagious for 3 to 4 weeks, long after they have returned to daycare without symptoms, and other viruses can cause similar symptoms.

Instead, if your child has symptoms of RSV, especially if she was around someone else with RSV symptoms about two to eight days ago or is simply in daycare during RSV season (usually November to April), then it is safe to assume that your child has RSV.

Also understand that antibiotics have no role in the treatment of uncomplicated RSV infections. RSV is a virus. Antibiotics do not work against viral infections.

Going to Day Care with RSV

Since many kids who get RSV are in day care, the million dollar question often becomes, when can my child with RSV go back to day care?

“Most minor illnesses do not constitute a reason for excluding a child from child care, unless the illness prevents the child from participating in normal activities, as determined by the child care staff, or the illness requires a need for care that is greater than staff can provide.”

AAP Red Book 2015

Although I once had the manager of a day care argue with me that a child needed to test RSV negative before being allowed back into her day care, kids can usually go back, even if they still have cold symptoms, as long as they:

  • don’t have a fever for 24 hours
  • don’t have any trouble breathing
  • are not fussy or irritable

Since these kids will likely be contagious, the AAP recommends that “In child care centers, good hygiene practices should be used by the staff and the children, including frequent and thorough hand washing.”

Treating Hard to Control RSV

If your child has RSV symptoms and isn’t getting better, ask yourself these questions and bring the answers to your pediatrician or seek quick medical attention:

“Some youngsters with bronchiolitis may have to be hospitalized for treatment with oxygen. If your child is unable to drink because of rapid breathing, he may need to receive intravenous fluids.”

American Academy of Pediatrics

  • Do you think your child’s symptoms are hard to control, not because they are getting worse, but rather because they are lingering for several weeks, which can be normal when young kids have RSV?
  • Does your newborn or infant under two or three months have a fever (temperature at or above 100.4F/38C)?
  • Is your child having trouble breathing, such as breathing fast or hard, with chest retractions (chest caving in), nasal flaring, trouble catching his breath, or a non-stop, continuous cough?
  • Do you see any signs that your child isn’t getting enough oxygen, including that “his fingertips and the area around his lips may turn a bluish color?”
  • Is your child dehydrated, with less urine output, dry mouth, or no tears?
  • Does your child have any medical problems that put her at higher risk for a severe RSV infection, including extreme prematurity, having complex heart disease, chronic lung disease of prematurity, or immune system problems?
  • Is your child lethargic, which doesn’t simply mean that he is just playing less, but rather that he is actually hard to wake up and is maybe skipping feedings?

If your child with RSV is getting worse, although there aren’t any special treatments to make the RSV infection go away, supportive care is available to help your child through it, including IV fluids and supplemental oxygen. Those who are most sick sometimes end up on a ventilator to help them breath, and tragically, some infants with RSV die.

What To Know About Treating Hard to Control RSV

RSV is never really easy to control for infants and toddlers, as there is no treatment or cure, but fortunately, most kids do not have severe symptoms that require hospitalizations.

More Information About Treating Hard to Control RSV

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What to Know About Fifth Disease

Fifth disease, also called erythema infectiosum, is a very common viral infection that most kids get in early childhood.

It got its name because it was the fifth disease that was known to cause a fever and rash.

Measles was the first.

Symptoms of Fifth Disease

Fifth disease can cause a child to look like they have slapped cheeks.
Fifth disease can cause a child to look like they have slapped cheeks. Photo by Dr. Philip S. Brachman

It is caused by parvovirus B19.

Symptoms start with a red rash on your child’s cheek, giving them the appearance that they have been slapped. And that’s where fifth disease’s other name comes from – slapped cheek disease.

This slapped cheek rash is often subtle, so that many parents might think that the rash is from the sun or wind. They often don’t even consider that their child might be ‘sick’ until a few days later, when they get a pink, lacy rash on their arms and legs. Even then, they might mistake the rash for hives, poison ivy, or any number of other common childhood rashes.

Diagnosis of Fifth Disease

Unless you understand that the fifth rash can come and go, being more obvious when your child is overheated, it can be easy to see why it isn’t quickly recognized by some people. It can also be confusing because the rash could also appear on a child’s back, chest, and leg – it doesn’t have to be limited to the cheeks and arms.

And the rash, which can be itchy, can linger for weeks or even months.

While a blood test can be done, it is this pattern of symptoms that makes the diagnosis.

Most importantly, understand that fifth disease eventually does goes away without treatment. While not usually necessary, anti-itch treatments may be tried.

Can your kids go to school with fifth disease?

Fortunately, kids are not contagious while they have this rash, so they can go to school and participate in other activities. You might need a note from your pediatrician to convince folks though. They were contagious during the week before they developed the rash though, so it can be a good idea to tell people, so they can look for symptoms too.

Facts About Fifth Disease

Other things to know about fifth disease include that:

  • Fifth disease is caused by the parvovirus B19 virus and is most common during the spring and school outbreaks are no uncommon.
  • The incubation period for fifth disease is very long – up to 4 to 21 days. That means you can get this virus about 4 to 21 days after being exposed to someone else that had it, especially if you were exposed to their respiratory secretions (coughing and sneezing) just before they developed their rash.
  • Prodromal symptoms of fifth disease, which can start 7 to 10 days before the rash, might include a few days of mild fever, muscle aches, headache and decreased activity.
  • In addition to a rash, adults with fifth disease can also have joint pain and arthritis.

It is also important to know that like roseola, fifth disease can be more serious for those with immune system problems. It can also be serious for pregnant women who aren’t immune and for those with hemolytic anemia and sickle cell disease.

What to Know About Fifth Disease

Fifth disease is a very common viral infection that causes a characteristic rash on a child’s cheeks, arms, and legs that can linger for weeks.

More Information About Fifth Disease

Roseola

Roseola is a very common childhood infection.

It was first described in the journal Pediatrics in 1910 by J. Zahorsky.

Also called roseola infantum or exanthem subitum (sixth disease), it is caused by human herpes virus type 6 and 7. That fact wasn’t discovered until 1986 though.

Roseola is best known for causing a high fever for about three to five days, but even more characteristically, roseola often causes a rose-pink or red rash on your child’s trunk once the fever breaks.

Infections can also be asymptomatic.

There are no treatments and it rarely causes complications. Even febrile seizures that can be triggered by roseola, which happens commonly, are not thought to be serious.

Roseola, even reactivation of an old infection, can be a serious for children or adults with immune system problems though, especially those who have had a stem cell transplant.

What To Know About Roseola

Roseola is a common viral infection that most kids get in early childhood. The biggest problem when having roseola is that by the time you get diagnosed, because the fever is gone and your child has a rash, it is basically over.

For more information:

Vaccine Preventable Diseases

There are over 25 vaccine-preventable diseases, including:

  • Anthrax – military use only
  • Adenovirus – military use only
  • Cervical Cancer (HPV)
  • Cholera
  • Diphtheria (DTaP)
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis E
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
  • Influenza (Seasonal Flu)
  • Japanese Encephalitis (JE) – travel
  • Measles (MMR)
  • Meningococcal disease (MCV4 and MenB)
  • Mumps (MMR)
  • Pertussis (DTaP)
  • Pneumococcal disease (Prevnar 13 and Pneumovax 23)
  • Poliomyelitis (IPV)
  • Rabies – after bites
  • Rotavirus
  • Rubella (MMR)
  • Shingles (Herpes Zoster) – for seniors only
  • Smallpox – eradicated
  • Tetanus (Tdap)
  • Tick-borne encephalitis
  • Tuberculosis (BCG)
  • Typhoid Fever – travel
  • Varicella (Chickenpox)
  • Yellow Fever – travel

Of course, kids don’t actually get vaccinated against all of these diseases.

They do routinely get 13 vaccines (bolded above) that protect them against 16 vaccine preventable diseases.

For more information:

Rotavirus Vaccines and Infections

Rotavirus is a now vaccine-preventable disease that can cause vomiting and diarrhea in young children.

While rotavirus isn’t the only cause of diarrhea in children, it was once the most common cause of severe diarrhea in young children.

Norovirus, several bacteria (Salmonella and Shigella), parasites, and other organisms still cause gastroenteritis (stomach flu) in children, but we don’t see rotavirus as much anymore. The National Respiratory and Enteric Virus Surveillance System (NREVSS) now reports low levels of rotavirus infection each year, with only about 5% of rotavirus tests now being positive during the peak of rotavirus season vs over 25% in the pre-vaccine era.

Rotavirus Infections

Children can develop symptoms of rotavirus symptoms about 1 to 3 days after being exposed to someone else who is sick with a rotavirus infections (the incubation period). These symptoms could include vomiting, watery diarrhea (without blood or mucus), fever, and abdominal pain. Although the fever and vomiting typically only last a few days, the diarrhea can often last at least 3 to 8 days or longer.

A rapid antigen stool test is available to test for rotavirus, but the diagnosis a typically made clinically, which means without testing and based on your child’s symptoms, especially if rotavirus infections are going around in your community.

Of course getting diagnosed with rotavirus is much less likely these days, now that we have a safe and effective vaccine.

While rotavirus was once the most common cause of severe diarrhea in children, leading to about 3 million cases of diarrhea, 55,000 hospitalizations, and 20 to 40 deaths in the United States each year, that has been greatly reduced in the post-vaccine era.

During the 2007-2008 rotavirus season, rotavirus activity decreased by more than 50% as compared to the 15 previous rotavirus seasons from 1991 to 2006. And during the 2010 to 2012 seasons, “the number of positive rotavirus tests declined 74%-90% compared with the pre-vaccine baseline and the total number of tests performed annually declined 28%-36%.”

Rotavirus Vaccines

The first rotavirus vaccine, Rotashield was quickly taken off the market in 1999 after it was found to be associated with an increased risk of intussusception, a type of bowel obstruction.

Newer rotavirus vaccines include:

  • RotaTeq – approved in 2006 and given to infants as a 3 dose vaccine series, it provides protection against five common strains of rotavirus, including serotypes G1, G2, G3, G4 and P1
  • Rotarix – approved in 2008 and given to infants as a 2 dose vaccine series, it provides protection against the most strain of rotavirus that most commonly gets kids sick

Both are live vaccines that are given orally and are thought to provide protection for at least two to three rotavirus seasons.

How good is that protection?

Completing either series of vaccines has been found to provide up to 98% protection against severe rotavirus gastroenteritis and up to 87% against any rotavirus gastroenteritis.

Infants should not get a rotavirus vaccine if they have had a severe allergic to a previous dose of the vaccine, to latex, if they have a history of intussusception, or if they have severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID).

They can usually get the rotavirus vaccine if they simply have some chronic stomach issues, like acid reflux or a milk intolerance, or if someone in the house has a problem with their immune system (just wash your hands after diaper changes). An immune system problem that is not SCID, an episode of acute, moderate or severe gastroenteritis, or other acute illness would be considered precautions to getting the rotavirus vaccine.

What To Know About Rotavirus

Rotavirus is a life-threatening disease that was once very common in childhood but can now be easily prevented with either the RotaTeq or Rotarix vaccines.

 

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics. Rotavirus infections. In:Pickering LK, Baker CJ, Long SS, eds. RedBook: 2015 Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases. 30th ed. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics, 2015

Gershon: Krugman’s Infectious Diseases of Children, 11th ed.

Live attenuated human rotavirus vaccine, Rotarix. Bernstein DI – Semin Pediatr Infect Dis – 01-OCT-2006; 17(4): 188-94.

Outbreaks of Acute Gastroenteritis Transmitted by Person-to-Person Contact, Environmental Contamination, and Unknown Modes of Transmission — United States, 2009–2013. MMWR. December 11, 2015 / 64(SS12);1-16

Tate JE et al. Trends in national rotavirus activity before and after introduction of rotavirus vaccine into the national immunization program in the United States, 2000 to 2012. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2013;32(7):741-744.