Why Are Social Distancing Kids Still Getting Sick?

Why are some kids still getting sick if they are have been our of school and stuck in the house for weeks because of COVID-19?

COVID-19 has kept most kids out of school for some time now. Many are also out of daycare. And few are out playing with friends.

So why are some still getting sick? What else is going on with kids stuck at home while we are all social distancing to flatten the curve.

Why Are Social Distancing Kids Still Getting Sick?

The first thought of some parents and pediatric providers upon reading this might be, wait, what, kids are still getting sick?

Flu activity is low in most of the United States.
Flu activity is low in most of the United States.

And that’s because it does seem that in addition to flattening the COVID-19 curve, staying home from school and daycare, washing hands, and general social distancing techniques has worked to keeps from getting sick with the flu and most other contagious diseases!

So while pediatric providers are available to do telemedicine appointments, it certainly isn’t business as usual, even as their days have gotten quite unusual.

Some kids are still getting sick though, and while we know what you are thinking, most probably don’t have COVID-19.

Why?

It might be because:

  1. they aren’t social distancing as well as they think they are, keeping in mind that with many diseases, people can be contagious for a few days before they show symptoms and you can sometimes catch germs from touching fomites, or objects that a sick person has recently touched. That still doesn’t mean that they have COVID-19 though. If they have contact with others, they could catch almost anything.
  2. they caught something from someone who had a disease a few weeks or months ago and is still shedding. For example, some infants can shed RSV for as long as 4 weeks after they get better. And they can shed the virus that causes hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) for almost two months! Human parainfluenza viruses (HPIV), a common cause of colds and croup (seal bark cough), can also shed for many months.
  3. they caught something from someone who had a viral disease that causes a lifelong latent infection with periodic reactivation and shedding. Wait, what? While herpes (cold sores) is the main disease you might think of as causing a lifelong latent infection, there are others. You may not realize this, but after getting roseola (causes a high fever for a few days, followed by a rash after the fever breaks), HHV-6 (human herpes virus-6) kind of does the same thing. The big difference is that while you shed HHV-6 in your saliva from time to time, you don’t have any symptoms. You can get other folks sick though, especially older infants, once they lose the passive immunity they got from maternal antibodies.
  4. they have a sore throat caused by a virus, allergies, or reflux, but have tonsil stones and a positive strep test because they are a strep carrier. Nearly 20% of kids are thought to be carriers of strep, which means that every time they get tested, they will be positive, whether or not they actually have strep throat. That means that you don’t have to worry about testing the dog to see if they are carrying strep…
  5. they were exposed to a disease with a long incubation period. While the incubation period (the time between getting exposed to something to when you get sick) is just a few days for many diseases, it can be several weeks or months for others. In fact, your child might not get sick until 30 to 50 days after being exposed to someone with mono!
  6. they had a virus a few weeks ago and now have Gianotti Crosti syndrome (GCS), a post-viral rash on a child’s legs, arms, and buttocks. Although GCS might linger for weeks or months, it eventually goes away on its own. Another rash, this one likely caused by reactivation of the virus that causes roseola, might have you thinking your child is covered in ringworm (how would they get that if they haven’t left the house??). Instead, they likely have pityriasis rosea.
  7. their symptoms are caused by a non-contagious infectious disease that is spread from an animal or insect and not from another person – think Lyme disease (ticks), Cat scratch disease (cats), and West Nile virus (mosquitoes), etc.
  8. they got sick (bacteria, virus, or parasite) from contaminated lake or well water, which can cause diarrhea – giardiasis, Crypto, shigellosis, norovirus,
  9. they got sick (bacteria, virus, or parasite) from eating raw or contaminated food – giardiasis, shigellosis, norovirus, E. coli, salmonellosis
  10. their symptoms are caused by a non-infectious disease, which could be anything from allergies and asthma to poison ivy or herpes zoster (shingles).

It is also possible that their symptoms are being caused by anxiety, fear, and stress, which is not unexpected as they see schools closed, people getting sick and wearing masks, and are likely unsure about what’s coming next.

Has your child been sick recently?

Do you have a pet turtle or chickens in your backyard? They could be a source for Salmonella…

Do you understand why now?

Now call your pediatric provider if you have questions and need help getting them well, especially if they seem anxious or have extra stress from being home all of the time and away from school and their friends.

You especially want to call if you think that they might actually have COVID-19. While most kids have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic, if your child has a fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, you should call your pediatric provider or seek medical attention.

More on Covid-19 Kids Getting Sick

What to Know About Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

Everything you need to know about Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease.

Have your kids ever had a coxsackievirus A16 infection?

Don’t think so?

What about Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD)?

Symptoms of  Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease is a very common childhood disease that most of us end up getting at some point, typically before we are about five years old. At least you hope you do, because you don’t want to get it as an adult…

Would you recognize these symptoms of HFMD?
Would you recognize these symptoms of HFMD? Photo courtesy Medicina Oral S.L.

Most people are familiar with the classic symptoms of HFMD, which can include:

  • a few days of fever, often up to about 102 degrees F
  • red spots that can turn into blisters on the child’s palms (hand) and soles (foot), but often also on their knees, elbows, and buttocks
  • sores or ulcers in a child’s mouth which are often painful, causing mouth pain or a sore throat and excessive drooling
  • a reduced appetite, which can sometimes lead to dehydration

Symptoms which can last up to 7 to 10 days.

Although that’s the end of it for most kids, a few weeks after the other symptoms have gone away, some kids will have peeling of the skin on the child’s fingers and toes. They might even lose their fingernails and toenails (nail shedding). This is only temporary though, and new nails should quickly grow back.

To confuse matters though, like other viral infections, not all kids have classic symptoms when they get HFMD. Some don’t have a fever, while others don’t have the rash on their hands and feet, which can make it easy to confuse with other viral infections that cause mouth ulcers, like herpangina.

Some kids don’t have any symptoms at all, but surprisingly, they can still be contagious.

Facts About Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

HFMD is caused by the coxsackievirus A16 virus and a few other enteroviruses, including enterovirus 71 and coxsackievirus A6. Because more than one virus can cause HFMD, it is possible to get it more than once.

Other things to know about HFMD include that:

  • it is very contagious, especially if you have close contact with nose and throat secretions, fluid from blisters, and feces of someone infected with HFMD, especially during their first week of illness
  • the incubation period for HFMD, the time when you were exposed to someone to when you develop symptoms, is about 3 to 7 days
  • people with HFMD disease can continue to be contagious for days or weeks after their symptoms have stopped, although this isn’t a reason to keep them out of school or daycare. In fact, as long as they don’t have fever and feel well, kids with HFMD can likely go to daycare or school.
  • there is no specific treatment for HFMD, except symptomatic care, including pain relief, fever reducers if necessary, and extra fluids
  • unlike other viruses which are common in the winter, HFMD season is during the spring, summer, and fall
  • complications of HFMD disease are rare, but can include viral meningitis, encephalitis, and a polio-like paralysis
  • HFMD is not the same as foot-and-mouth or hoof-and-mouth disease that affects animals
  • there is currently no vaccine to prevent you from getting HFMD, although cross reactivity between polio vaccines and enterovirus 71 might lead to milder symptoms if you are vaccinated and an EV-71 vaccine is approved in China

Most importantly, to avoid getting HFMD, wash your hands after changing your child’s diaper, teach them to cover their coughs and sneezes, and don’t share cups or other personal items.

Although many of us had HFMD when we were kids, remember that there are multiple viruses that can cause it. When outbreaks occur and we see more cases in adults, it is likely because it isn’t being caused not by coxsackievirus A16, but by a less commonly seen enterovirus that we aren’t immune to, like coxsackievirus A6.

More on Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease