Winter viruses are becoming more prevalent in the other months of the year because they seem to be circulating earlier than expected in recent years. Plus, they are affecting more children than before. This article will take a closer look at the many viruses parents should be aware of, the symptoms they should watch for, and how to reduce the risk of children contracting them.
The Big Six Viruses Making The Rounds
According to Yale Medicine pediatric infectious disease specialist Thomas Murray MD, Ph.D., numerous viruses appear at this time of year. They include influenza and rhinovirus. Both of which result in the common cold and are not too concerning. However, the following viruses parents should watch out for include the following:
1 – Adenoviruses
These typically cause mild cold-like or flu-like symptoms. Parents need to know about these particular viruses because there has been an increase in hepatitis cases in children. The origin is unknown, but some of the children affected also tested positive for adenovirus. It has caused enough concern to make the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issue a Health Alert Notice on the situation.
2 – Enterovirus D68
A virus that typically targets infants, children, and teens. Children with asthma are at particular risk. In addition, the CDC says enterovirus D68 is possibly the cause of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), a polio-like disorder. This virus has only appeared in small numbers since 1987. However, recorded outbreaks between August and November in 2014, 2016, and 2018. Oddly enough, 2020 reported no cases, the first year of the pandemic.
3 – Human parainfluenza viruses (HPIV)
Individuals contracting HPIV recover with self-care, although more severe illnesses, like pneumonia can result from HPIV. The symptoms include fever, coughing, and a runny nose.
4 – Human parechovirus (PeV)
This common virus can produce symptoms that include rash, fever, and respiratory infection. However, parents should watch out for the variant of PeV known as Type Three (PeV-A3) which can be life-threatening to young infants. It has been found in circulation in several states causing the CDC to issue a health advisory encouraging pediatricians to watch for symptoms in babies less than a year of age.
5 – Monkeypox
Although this disease is similar to smallpox, it is rare. However, it has been spreading and causes a painful rash, chills, and fever as symptoms. While the likelihood of a rash on a child from monkeypox is very low, parents should still be aware of the possibility.
6 – RSV (respiratory syncytial virus)
RSV is the one virus that seems to be making all the news. It makes sense, too. During pre-pandemic winters, recorded cases of over 60,000 hospitalized children, and then it dropped off the radar between 2020 and 2021. However, it has since returned and is at higher rates of infection. Symptoms include cold-like conditions, which may create serious complications for young children. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine to prevent RSV, and the only known treatment occurs in severe cases due to supply.
Parents Should Still Be Concerned About Coronavirus
Dr. Murray and Magna Dias, MD, a Yale Medicine pediatrician, agree that COVID-19 is far from over. They cite a Yale Virology Report that showed a week in July 2022 where non-COVID virus cases were minimal, but COVID cases totaled 842. COVID seems to cause only mild disease responses in children, but prevention is the main focus. As a result, many children succumbed to coronavirus. In contrast, others have developed a long COVID due to the condition where symptoms of the coronavirus linger long after a child tests negative for COVID.
The Symptoms Parents Should Monitor
Unfortunately, many different respiratory infections have similar symptoms. Plus, according to Dr. Murray, the symptoms you become accustomed to watching for over one or a few years may change. Ultimately, the telltale signs are usually high fevers, breathing difficulties, and in some cases, the appearance of a new rash. Always make your pediatrician aware of anything that gets your attention, with breathing issues topping the list of priorities.
As for COVID-19 and flu, the symptoms identified by the CDC include fatigue, sore throat, a runny or stuffed-up nose, cough, shortness of breath, and in some cases, a loss of taste or smell. The CDC also advises that symptoms differ from one individual to another and that there are cases where no symptoms are present. When in doubt, keep your child out of childcare until they feel better.
How Parents Can Treat These Illnesses
According to Dr. Murray, the same treatment will work for most of these illnesses, even though the viruses differ. He explains, “If the COVID test is negative, most of the time parents just need to make sure that the baby or child is OK – and that their breathing is OK – and provide supportive care.” He adds that parents can help their sick children by ensuring they are appropriately hydrated and encouraging the use of over-the-counter medicines. He suggests ibuprofen or acetaminophen for fever, as most children will be fine using that treatment. He points out that if symptoms continue, parents should contact their health provider again.
How Parents Can Keep Their Children Healthy
Dr. Dias says that viruses are a way of life. Prevention is the key to preventing viruses through vaccination or limited exposure. Parents should practice these measures with their children. Plus, they should not cause excessive worry about infection when discussing the possibility of illness with their children.
Dr. Murray states that easing mental health in children is another hot-button item within the home, with parents being proactive. Therefore, having conversations and communicating concerns in a relaxed manner. “Take time to talk at dinner, go for an evening walk, or go for a hike on the weekends. Spend time talking to your kids about how they’re doing.”
Sandra Chiu works as Director at LadyBug & Friends Daycare and Preschool.