As our office is getting ready for the onslaught of “sick season” I am already getting numerous phone calls from concerned parents about illnesses in their schools. One thing that is the same each year….once kids go back to school, whether it is daycare, preschool or elementary school, young children start to get sick. Parents wonder why this is the case and is it REALLY normal?
It is very normal for otherwise perfectly healthy little children to catch just about everything that is “going around”. Once a child is a toddler they play in close contact with their friends and put “germy” hands and toys into their mouths, so a younger child catches more viral illnesses than a 5 or 6 year old. In fact, it is not uncommon for a toddler to catch 10 -12 viral illnesses in one year. That means they are sick at least once a month if not more. But, the good news is most of the illnesses are self limited and resolve with minimal treatment with over the counter fever control medications, fluids, rest and a lot of tender loving care!
But, with the advent of many rapid in office tests that allow a doctor and parent to know within hours which virus is causing their child’s cough and cold, I am actually seeing more and more worried parents. I got a call yesterday from a mother who had gotten a “note/email” from her child’s school that there was a child who had rhinovirus. Rhinovirus is just one of many viruses that cause the common cold!! There is really no need for a school to let parents know that there is a child who has a cold. But if you hear the words rhinovirus, metapneumovirus, adenovirus, or parainfluenza virus (which has nothing to do with the flu), it sounds pretty scary.
Although being able to swab a child’s nose to determine which virus is causing their fever, cough and runny nose is fairly easy, and it may be helpful in certain situations (such as a child who has a compromised immune system, or a premature baby with lung problems), for the “normal healthy child” identifying the name of the virus is not necessary, and most importantly it typically does not change how the doctor or parent will care for the child.
So… I would encourage doctors to be judicious in ordering these tests and parents to understand why they are NOT routinely done. The social media chain of identifying which child has which virus is not helpful and may make an already anxious parent, even more anxious.
Bottom line, wash your hands, get a flu shot and get ready for a lot of coughs and colds in the next few months!