Keep Your Kids Healthy This Winter

Beverly A. Yearwood, MD, FAAP


As the cooler months arrive, the number of children we see for RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) always increases. RSV is a respiratory virus that causes infection of the lungs and breathing passages, and it can be very serious in young babies, especially those who are premature. It can also be dangerous for kids with diseases that affect the lungs, heart, or immune system. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia in children under one year of age in the United States.

 Typically, young infants who have RSV are irritable, less active, and have breathing difficulties. In most cases, healthy infants infected with RSV do not require hospitalization, but in severe cases, babies may need to be admitted for supplemental oxygen and suctioning of mucus from the airways until they are able to breathe on their own. That’s why it’s important to talk with your physician when your child has symptoms – dry cough, low grade fever, sore throat, and mild headache. Serious symptoms needing immediate medical attention include high fever, severe cough, wheezing, rapid breathing or difficulty breathing, and bluish lips or nail beds.

 RSV can spread rapidly through schools and childcare centers, and babies often get it when older kids carry the virus home from school and pass it to them through coughing or sneezing. Droplets containing the virus can linger briefly in the air, and if someone inhales the particles, or the particles contact their nose, mouth, or eyes, they can become infected. It’s also possible to get RSV through direct contact, for example, by kissing the face of a child with RSV. Indirect contact can occur if the virus gets on surfaces like doorknobs, which are then touched by other people. RSV can survive on hard surfaces such as tables and crib rails for several hours.

 I can’t stress this enough: WASH YOUR HANDS! This is the best way to prevent the spread of RSV germs. You should also wipe hard surfaces with soap and water or disinfectant to help stop infection, especially in places like your bathrooms and kitchens. Unfortunately, scientists have not yet developed an RSV vaccine, so I encourage you to keep your family healthy by avoiding contact with people who have colds.


The Flu Monster

Influenza – a.k.a. “the flu” – is also a contagious respiratory illness, and it leads to more than 20,000 children under the age of five being hospitalized each year. The flu is more dangerous than the common cold and often produces fever, nausea and vomiting, which can lead to dehydration in little ones. The single best way to protect your children from the flu is to get them vaccinated each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone six months of age and older get a seasonal flu vaccine.

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