Families with young children should be aware of the alarm signs that can trigger alarm bells: a sniffle, a sneeze, or a cough.
Vickie Leon, the mother of Vickie Leon, said that her children, aged 4 and 2, sometimes go for a few months without bringing any items back to daycare. There are also times when the family from Aurora, Colorado is catching a cold every other week.
She said, “Once that hits us, we are just in the for a while.”
Many children have spent years socially distancing themselves to prevent Covid-19. Now, healthcare systems are overloaded with RSV cases — which can lead to a runny nose and decreased appetite.
This viral infection is a common one. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that almost all children contract RSV before age 2. The immune system that develops after an infection can often weaken over time, which can lead to multiple infections throughout a person’s life, according to Dr. William Schaffner at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville.
Public health challenges this year include the fact that many children were not allowed to go home due to Covid-19. However, RSV was also kept away from them, which means more people are getting their first and most severe infection. Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician, and professor of public health at George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health stated that they have a major problem.
RSV infections are often mild but can be serious for infants and children with underlying conditions. Schaffner is also the medical director for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
However, it doesn’t mean that you should panic. When is the author of “Lifelines”: A Doctor’s Journey In The Fight for Public Health? Catching RSV or other viral and bacterial diseases is part of growing up and developing your immune system.
Experts share their tips on how to determine when your child should be home from school and when they should visit the pediatrician.
Are they experiencing the flu, cold, Covid, or RSV?
There are many infections this winter, including colds, flu, strep and throat, RSV, and lingering Covid-19. They can all look very similar in terms of symptoms, Schaffner stated. He said that even the most skilled doctors might have difficulty identifying them when patients are present in the office.
Wen stated that pediatricians are highly trained and well-equipped to treat upper respiratory infections, even though it’s not possible to identify the exact cause.
She said that regardless of whether a virus or bacteria is causing a headache, sore throat, or sniffles in your family, it will likely impact how you proceed.
Is it a good idea to keep your child at home?
Public health professionals would prefer that no child with symptoms was sent to school or daycare, as they could spread infection Schaffner stated. He said that this is not always practical advice, especially for caregivers or single parents who have to work.
He said that at-home tests could indicate if a child is suffering from a Covid-19 virus infection. However, it may not be possible to determine if a child has a cold or another virus.
Wen stated that some symptoms that could indicate it is time for your child to be home from daycare or school are high fever, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty eating or breathing problems, as well as poor sleep or trouble sleeping.
Donna Mazyck is a registered nurse and the executive director of the National Association of School Nurses. She breaks it down into two main considerations: Is the child ill or has he/she a fever?
She said that families should check the guidelines of their school. Some will detail when a child must be home from school. Others will be more dependent on parental judgment.
Wen stated, “When in doubt consult the school policies and have an action plan with a physician.”
Children at greater risk due to other medical conditions should consult their pediatrician before they get sick.
Is it the right time to send them back
This is another area where schools might have different policies. It becomes crucial to verify written information with a school administrator, Wen stated.
She said that schools generally ask for a fever-free child before they return to class.
Wen stated that it might not be fair to exclude children suffering from asthma or allergies from school if they are showing symptoms such as coughing or sniffling. This could keep them out for half of the year.
Some symptoms, such as a persistent cough, can persist after an infection clears. Mazyck stated that in these cases it might be appropriate for a child to return to school. However, Mazyck reiterated that it is important to verify the school’s guidelines.
When should you seek medical assistance?
Schaffner stated that families are usually good about bringing their children to the pediatrician if they feel unwell. He said that despite the many issues, it is important for families to remember that doctors prefer to see children who aren’t feeling well sooner than those who feel better.
Schaffner stated that parents and caregivers should take their children to see a pediatrician if they feel lethargic, unable to eat or have trouble breathing.
He said, “This is not something they should be afraid of.”
Wen said that infants and younger babies should be taken to the emergency department if they have difficulty swallowing liquids or have trouble breathing, dry diapers, flared nostrils, and chest pain.
Wen stated that school-aged children who struggle to breathe or speak in complete sentences should be referred by their families. Schaffner stated that most children will not require emergency treatment and that those who do need it are often back at home in a matter of days.
Wen stated, “Parents need to know that treating RSV or other respiratory infections is the bread-and-butter of emergency physicians and pediatricians.” This is what we do.
How to stop sickness from spreading
Wen stated that teaching children hygiene habits are key to preventing these illnesses. This includes washing hands, using hand soap when there’s no sink, not sharing food and utensils with others, and coughing into a tissue or elbow.
Schaffner stated that although there is no vaccine yet for RSV, the US Food and Drug Administration has approved several effective vaccines for influenza and Covid-19.
He added that if your child has not been vaccinated yet, they should talk to their doctor about how they can protect themselves against these viruses.