Bugs to Beware
Your kids are back in school. So are a half-dozen nasty little creatures just waiting to make them cough, sniffle and sneeze.
Autumn’s return means school-age children are back to readin’, writin’, ’rithmetic and—rhinovirus? Yes! They may not be on the curriculum, but the germs that spread the common cold, influenza and other maladies do attend regularly where kids congregate.
Technically, these “bugs” are viruses. They can cause a cold, a case of flu—or even a more serious illness that lands a child in the hospital. And while you don’t need to put them under a microscope for scientific study, you do need to teach your kids to steer clear of them: to wash their hands regularly, not to use the same cups or utensils as other children, and to be mindful of the surfaces—counters, doorknobs, etc.—that many little hands touch.
“Aside from immunizations and flu vaccines, hand washing is the best protection,” says Julia A. Piwoz, M.D., chief of the Section of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at HackensackUMC. “If you’ve got a nail biter, try to break him or her of that habit. And caution children about putting their fingers in their mouths, ears and noses—those are exactly the places where a virus can enter.”
Dr. Piwoz offers a way to put the lesson for younger kids: “It’s nice to share, but not germs.”
Can cause: common cold
There are 99 known rhinoviruses and they’re a threat year-round — including when kids reconvene each autumn and unwittingly share “What I caught on my Summer Vacation.”
Can cause: colds and croup
All four types of parainfluenza viruses can cause upper or lower respiratory infections, sometimes just a runny nose but other times croup, bronchiolitis, bronchitis and pneumonia.
Bug: respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
Can cause: colds and other respiratory infections
At its peak, November through January, RSV is a major cause of respiratory illness in children. It’s usually a bad cold, but in kids with diseases that affect the lungs, heart or immune system, RSV can lead to more serious illnesses.
Bug: influenza A
Can cause: the flu
Each year, several strains circulate: ais the most common. Its peak activity is usually from december through February. Children under 5 and those with underlying health conditions are at the greatest risk for serious complications, but even previously healthy children can become very ill. Immunization is the best protection.
Bug: influenza B
Can cause: colds and flu
Flu b activity tends to peak in early spring each year. It produces the same symptoms as flu a, but generally does not cause nearly as many cases. again, immunization is the recommended safeguard.
Bug: human metapneumovirus (HMPV)
Can cause: upper and lower respiratory tract infections, including colds, pneumonIa or bronchitis
Identified in 2001, this bug has likely been causing respiratory illnesses for at least 50 years worldwide. Most people have mild symptoms, while some may develop wheezing, trouble breathing, hoarseness, cough, pneumonia and an asthma flare-up. It can be more serious in children with weak immune systems.
Another bad guy: bacteria
Besides the viruses described on this page, bacteria-caused streptococcus and staphylococcus infections also threaten to make children sick. “Most kids are going to get strep about once a school year,” says Julia A. Piwoz, M.D., chief of the Section of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at HackensackUMC. Bacterial infections can become serious if untreated, but in many cases antibiotics can get kids back to school in 24 hours if there are no complications.