Currently we are seeing high rates of many different viruses affecting children within our area, including RSV, flu and rhinovirus/enterovirus. Schools, daycares, stores, restaurants and other crowded places expose children to these viruses. 

Given the high number of infection rates, a child could be sick with multiple viruses. Their symptoms from one illness may not have completely resolved before they start to have symptoms from another virus.

Dr. Mandie Tibball Svatek answers common questions from parents about protecting kids from illness.

When can I send my child back to school after they’ve been sick?

Many schools have their own guidelines for returning to school, so you should call and ask if you aren’t sure. Typically, a child should be fever-free for 24 hours and not have symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, mouth sores or rashes. 

Cough and congestion may still be present after some of the common viruses, but as long as other symptoms have resolved, cough and congestion can be allowed.

They got better and within three days they had another fever. Can they get the same virus twice?

If there are different variants of the virus in the community — such as the flu —there is the potential to get repeat infections. This is similar to what we’ve seen with COVID-19 infections.

It’s also not unusual for a child to start daycare for the first time and develop 8-12 viral respiratory infections within that first year. As a child’s immune system develops, the number of infections will usually decrease with time.

When should I take my child to the emergency department?

Take your child to the emergency room if they have symptoms such as:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Not being able to tolerate oral intake
  • Fever that does not resolve after five days or is getting worse
  • Change in mental status

Is it important to know which virus they have?

A swab is not needed to identify viruses. 

If your child has flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, congestion, headache, muscle aches and fatigue and they are presenting within the first 48 hours of symptoms then they can be tested. 

Their pediatrician may decide to start a medication such as Tamiflu to help shorten the duration of symptoms.

For COVID-19, a parent may choose to get their child tested for the following reasons:

  • Patients who have symptoms consistent with COVID-19 should be tested immediately.
  • Patients who are asymptomatic but have had close contact with an individual who has confirmed or probable COVID-19 should be tested at least five days after last exposure. However, these patients should be tested immediately if they develop symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
  • Patients who are required to obtain screening tests based on local public health authorities, school districts or other local organizations should be tested as required.

Overall, it is important to contact your health care provider for your child to help guide you in decisions about testing and potential treatments for your child. The health care provider can also provide direction on when to return to school and activities that the child may be participating in.

How do we boost their immune system?

Vaccines such as the COVID-19 vaccine and flu vaccine can provide protection and can shorten the duration of symptoms. Keeping your child up to date on all vaccines is also extremely important to help protect your child from vaccine-preventable diseases. 

Eating a well-balanced diet is also important in keeping the body healthy.

Once they are sick, what’s the best way to quickly flush the virus from their system?

It’s important to keep a child hydrated during their illness, so giving them plenty of fluids is important. Treating the fever with fever-reducing medications can also make the child feel better as the virus runs through their body.

Allowing a child to rest and stay out of activities will also help lead to an easier recovery.

What can I do to prevent my child from getting sick?

Different viruses are spread in different ways either through the air and/or on surfaces. Although they are not 100% effective, mask wearing and hand washing can help keep a child from getting sick.

If there is a vaccine available, that is the most effective way of protecting against an illness.

If one of my children is sick, how do I prevent others in the household from getting the virus as well?

It may be difficult to prevent the spread of the virus to others in your house, but it’s especially important to have a plan to protect young infants, older individuals, and those who may have health problems that can be worsened by an illness.

You can encourage good hand hygiene at home and clean surfaces that a sick child may have touched. You can also ask family members to wear a mask and/or have the child wear a mask to potentially reduce spread to other individuals in the house, and separate individuals who are susceptible from those who are sick.

Should kids wear masks to avoid getting flu and other respiratory infections?

Face masks for children two years and older can definitely be considered during this time where viruses such as the flu are predominant in our area. 

You may also consider mask wearing for children when COVID-19 infection rates are high, for those children that have a weakened immune system, and to protect other family members that may be at risk in the household as noted above.