To continue our Blog on common childhood illnesses seen in school-aged children, we will turn to what I call the “Big 3″ – Strep Throat, Gastroenteritis (known by many as the “stomach flu),” and the Common Cold vs Influenza. Again, hope you’re not squeamish, gotta have the visuals!
4. Strep Throat
Strep throat, cause by the bacteria Group A beta-hemolytic Streptococci (GABHS), is most common in children between the ages of 5-15 years. Symptoms usually begin suddenly and may be mild or severe, including intense sore throat, fever, nausea, swollen tonsils and difficulty swallowing and may even cause a rash. In general, strep throat is different than sore throat due to a virus (cold viruses, or even the mono virus, can give the child a pretty severe sore throat) in that kids with cold viruses will usually have runny nose, cough, watery eyes with or without fever.
If you think your kid might have strep throat- go see your child’s doctor or health care provider ! It is important to diagnose and treat strep throat, as it might have serious potential complications if not fully treated, including rheumatic fever and kidney failure. And as much as I believe in natural remedies and immune boosting home therapies, this is NOT one to mess with!
Take your child to the doctor to have a strep test…the rapid test will have results in a few minutes but has some false negatives (especially in younger children). The throat culture should be done if a negative rapid strep is obtained with a strong suspicion but can take up to 3 days for results. The treatment for strep is a course of antibiotics and home care, and return to school only once the child has been on antibiotics for a minimum of 24 hours. You also want to let your school nurse know as it is fairly contagious.
Better known as “the stomach flu,” even though it is NOT related to influenza virus, gastroenteritis is defined as an inflammation of the stomach and intestines, typically resulting from bacterial toxins or viral infection and causing vomiting and diarrhea. Gastro (as we refer to it) is VERY common in children, and responsible for 200,000 hospitalizations in the US alone. The vaccine against rotavirus was designed to prevent one of the most common childhood gastroenteritis, and has saved thousands of lives worldwide.
Most often, the child will need to stay home, drink plenty of clear liquids, even if small amounts at a time, and eat a mild diet when tolerated. If your child cannot tolerate fluids, or if there is blood in the diarrhea and high fever, call your doctor right away. He or she might test the stool for bacteria or prescribe zofran, or ondansetron, a dissolvable pill approved for children and teens and works miracles if your child is at risk for dehydration! At least it has for our family!
Signs of dehydration include dry and sunken eyes, dry mouth, poor, dry, skin tone, and low urine output. Younger children are at high risk for significant dehydration an once dehydration sets in, there will be no going back orally, so get them checked out if they seem dehydrated! Your child can return to school when he/she can maintain a near normal diet, is not vomiting and has no fever. Hand washing is KEY in prevention of gastroenteritis. Probiotics for your child with diarrhea might help.
6. Influenza vs The Common Cold
Your child wakes up in the morning sneezing, coughing, achy and feverish…is it a cold or the flu?
The common cold usually begins with a sore throat that disappears in a day or two. Runny nose, congestion and cough follow on days 4-5. Cold symptoms usually last for about a week, and kids are mostly contagious while they are spiking fevers or for the first 3 days of symptoms. If your child has a new fever after the first week, it’s time to see the doctor!
Influenza, or “the flu,” is usually more severe and comes on quickly. Symptoms include sore throat, fever (usually higher than with the common cold, especially in younger children), headache, muscle aches and soreness, congestion, and cough. While in most cases symptoms will improve in 2-5 days, it’s not uncommon for your child to feel run down for a week to 10 days.
When to call the doctor: persistent fever, painful swallowing (could be strep throat), persistent coughing (over 2-3 weeks), fast, labored, breathing, persistent vomiting, lethargy, or not tolerating fluids with poor urine output.
Prevention: WASH HANDS FREQUENTLY DURING FLU SEASON! (Typically peaks December-March, but there have been a few cases reported already this year!). Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds. There’s also the flu vaccine (recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for children over the age of 6 months) and you can find information in the “flu vaccine finder” on www.flu.gov
Treatment- While antiviral medication is usually reserved for hospitalized patients, the very young, or those with complications from influenza, most will need rest, lots of fluids and medications for symptom relief…and don’t forget about natural remedies! Green tea, steam and saltwater nose irrigation will ease symptoms. There are also many foods that have been shown to help boost immune systems and help fight the flu, including ginseng root, cayenne pepper, turmeric, ginger, berries, raw honey, and garlic among others…always great to use food as medicine!
Good luck this winter! Stay healthy everyone!