Submitted by Sandra Scalzitti, MD, pediatrician and internal medicine physician with Wheaton Franciscan Medical Group
It is cold and flu season again. By flu, I mean influenza which is a respiratory illness consisting of fever, body aches and usually cough and congestion that may progress to pneumonia. It can be prevented by a vaccine. Many people use the word flu for vomiting and diarrhea. We have had a lot of “stomach flu” going around lately. Most of this is caused by the Norovirus, which is known as the “cruise ship virus." It can be spread very easily among people who live together. There is no vaccine to prevent this, but good hand-washing can help.
For infants and small children, it is also RSV season, which stands for Respiratory Syncytial Virus. RSV can cause mild cold symptoms but can cause severe breathing problems in some of our youngest folks. Most children have been exposed to this virus by age two and luckily most have a mild illness. More severe illness may happen to any child, but the children most at risk are those who are:
- Born prematurely
- With chronic lung disease
- With congenital heart disease
If an infant has RSV, they may have a cough but can develop apnea (breath-holding), wheezing, dehydration due to poor feeding, or hypoxia (low oxygen in the blood). At-risk infants should be considered for a monthly injection to prevent RSV-related illnesses.
Croup and influenza viruses may also cause breathing problems. The croup virus family will cause a “wheezing” noise when breathing in, called “stridor." It may calm down by sitting with the child in a humid bathroom with the shower running or going outside in cool air, but it may need a trip to the Emergency Department if the work of breathing is increased. This means the child is using all his or her muscles to breathe very fast. You can often see the child’s ribs stick out as the skin gets pulled down with breathing. If a child cannot swallow because he or she is breathing too hard, they will need to be seen.
Pertussis is a bacteria that causes whooping cough and can be prevented by a vaccine. It can also cause apnea (breath-holding) and hypoxia (low oxygen) and require hospitalization in infants. The vaccine is given at two, four and six months, again at 12 to 18 months, at Kindergarten entry, and on entering 6th grade. All adults, but especially those who care for children, should have a booster shot for pertussis. Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare hospital nurseries have programs for parents and grandparents of newborns to receive this vaccine.
As always, if you have questions about your symptoms, we’re here to help. Just give us a call, (414) 425-7000.
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