What You Need to Know about RSV, Croup, and Whooping Cough (Pertussis) in Kids
Serious Childhood Illnesses
If you have kids or are around children on a regular basis, you are very aware of a single truth: at any moment, an illness can strike. Children are very susceptible to illnesses, especially at young ages, as their immune systems are not mature yet.
Even though some of these illnesses can be prevented with vaccines or other health measures, they still are a problem for children. As an example, recent outbreaks of pertussis, or whopping cough, have resurfaced, making it even more important for parents to keep their children healthy and from contracting this potentially deadly illness.
Knowing the symptoms of illnesses, as well as treatments and prevention, is key in keeping your children healthy.
Below is a list of three common serious childhood illnesses, their symptoms, their treatments and prevention.
Fevers in Children
When the body raises it’s temperature above normal levels, above 98.6°F on average, it results in a fever. A fever is sometimes a sign that the body is fighting off something; it is not an illness itself. It can also result from basic changes in body temperature during the day, from working out, sleeping, playing, etc. For infants only a few weeks old, though, a fever can be a serious matter, especially if it is above 100°F rectally. If your baby has a fever at that age, call the doctor right away. For older babies and children, it’s recommended that you call the doctor if the fever is 102°F or higher. Your doctor will determine what to do dependent on your child’s behavior and activity level. For fevers lower than 102°F, it’s often recommended to give plenty of fluids and let the fever pass or to give plenty of fluids and acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
RSV Symptoms and Why It Can Be Dangerous for Infants
RSV in Babies and Children
Symptoms: RSV, or respitory syncytial virus is an infection of the lungs. It is very common in children ages 0-2, but can affect older children as well. This illness begins like the common cold, with a runny nose, and a mild fever. For infants with underdeveloped lungs or young children who don’t fight off infections well, these cold symptoms turn to rapid breathing, bouts of coughing, irritability that is more than a cranky episode, and a possible wheezing when coughing or trying to breathe. It’s best to call your doctor if these symptoms persist without seeming to get better.
Note: If your child seems to be in distress, immediately call the doctor, especially if breathing increases to around 50-60 breaths per minute. If untreated and your child gets worse, the RSV could turn to pneumonia or bronchiolitis, a swelling of the smallest air passages of the lungs .
Treatments: Just like with a normal cold, it is recommended that you use a cool mist humidifier, provide lots of fluids to the sick child, keep the child as comfortable as possible, and give acetaminophen (like Tylenol) as directed. If your child experiences a sore throat, you can simply offer him/her honey, as long as he/she is older than one year old. Honey is not recommended for children younger than one as they may have a reaction to the spores that occur naturally in honey. It is not recommended to give any cough suppressant or other cold medicines to children under the age of six as they have not been proven effective for that age group.
Prevention: Keep your children healthy by teaching them to wash their hands each time they cough in their hands or blow their little noses (parents should do the same!). It is also recommended to use a cool mist humidifier during the winter months as it helps to keep the nasal passages moist and makes for easier breathing during the dry winter months. Just be sure to clean it properly as harmful bacteria and mold can grow within the unit.
Croup in Kids
Symptoms: Croup, or laryngo-tracheo-bronchitis, is a scary illness for a parent to witness (see my story). It most often occurs in both the springtime and fall as it can be triggered by allergies. It can be caused by a virus or bacterial infection of the respitory tract, meaning it could be caused by an illness like RSV or other illnesses. As a viral infection, it causes inflammation of vocal chords and surrounding tissue. There may or may not be a fever, depending on what illness has brought on the croup. Sudden attacks most likely happen in the middle of the night, giving your child a barking cough (think: seal bark), a hard time breathing, and a very hoarse voice, which are scary things to deal with in the middle of the night when your doctor is most likely not in his/her office.
Note: If your child experiences the above symptoms plus is blue from the lack of proper breathing, take him/her to the nearest emergency room immediately. It means that he/she is not getting enough oxygen from breathing and that there may be possible swelling in the throat from the illness.
Treatment: Just like for RSV, it is recommended to use a cool-mist humidifier, but it is also helpful to run a hot shower and let your child breathe in the steam. Try to keep your child comfortable, which may include giving acetaminophen as directed for pain from coughing. Fluids should be encouraged to keep the throat moist. Again, it is not recommended that you give any sort of cough or cold medicine to any child under the age of six.
If the croup is severe, it might be recommended by your doctor that your child receive breathing treatments from the hospital. The breathing treatment is usually a simple mist that is emitted from a mask worn by the child. Steroids are sometimes prescribed, depending on how severe the throat is swollen due to the illness. X-rays are usually done to determine the severity of the swollen throat and to detect any traces of possible pneumonia.
Prevention—The prevention for this illness would be the same for RSV. Wash hands, clean all surfaces touched regularly to clean away any viruses, and try to use a cool mist humidifier on a regular basis. Also, if you are aware your child is sick, keep him/her away from other children or adults until he/she is feeling better.
At Home Treatments for Croup
My Son and His First Episode of the Croup Cough
The fall after my son turned one, he developed a cold, just like any other cold--runny nose, coughing, slight fever. He was still running around, playing like he would any day. It wasn't until the nighttime that his cough changed. He awoke in the middle of the night, with a persistent, loud barking cough. It was so scary since I had never experienced it before and the doctor wasn’t available. Yet, the next morning, after taking some Tylenol, he was okay, playing and running around. My husband and I went to work, and my son went to my mom's house, all of us thinking he was well. While at my mom’s, he started showing signs of distress when he was breathing. She took him to the doctor (prior to this episode, we had given our doctor a signed note saying my mom could take him when we couldn’t be there) who sent him immediately to the hospital for a breathing treatment. I had to rush home from work to sit with my son in a hospital bed as he wore a little mask on his face. He looked so sad. It broke my heart to see such my tiny little child so sad. Along with the mask, he had an oxygen monitor on his finger checking the content of oxygen in his blood. He had to get x-rays and wait until his oxygen level was steady at 100%. After a few hours of the breathing treatment and determining that his oxygen level was okay, he was placed on antibiotics and sent home.
Kids and Babies with Whooping Cough or Pertussis
Symptoms: Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a contagious bacterial infection that is once again on the rise. It affects the lungs, bronchial tubes and larynx. It is known for the ‘whooping’ sound a child would make as he/she is coughing. The illness starts out as a regular cold, with a runny or stuffy nose, but then progresses to forceful coughing along with the whooping sound. The coughing is usually a dry cough (without mucous). There may also be a fever, loss of appetite and irritability.
Treatment: At home, the best you can do is provide plenty of fluids, encourage your child to rest and give acetaminophen or ibuprofen as directed. Keep the child away from any babies or infants—babies or infants who contract the infection can develop a secondary infection or pneumonia, which can be deadly for a baby.
Once you believe your child has this illness, call your doctor right away. He/she will most likely provide antibiotics to treat the illness.
Prevention: Prevention for this illness is again like the prevention of the other illnesses: proper washing of hands and proper cleaning of surfaces touched by those infected.
The real prevention for this illness should be easy; it comes in the form of a vaccine that is typically given to children at a young age. The vaccine is the DTaP: it’s a vaccine that is given as a series starting when children are two months old. The reason why whooping cough is on the rise is for two reasons: 1. some parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children for various personal reasons and 2. doctors are discovering that adults that have had the vaccine as children are no longer as protected by their childhood vaccination as much. In fact, many hospitals and doctors are offering the vaccine to new parents after they have had a baby to protect the baby before he/she is able to get the vaccine. Why? Whooping cough can be deadly to infants and young babies. It is also recommended that any family members or caregivers who will be around the baby should get an updated vaccine.
What Does Whooping Cough Sound Like?
Know the Symptoms, Know How to Treat, Learn How to Prevent: Keep Your Kids Healthy!
Just by being aware of the symptoms of these common childhood illnesses, how to treat them and prevention of them, you may be able to keep your children healthy during the fall and winter months.
Remember: sometimes you may not be sure about some of the symptoms or how to treat them. If you are unsure, don't try to diagnose your child on your own. Call your doctor and ask. He or she will be able to determine, based on the symptoms you tell them, whether or not it is necessary to medically treat your child. Also, remember to follow all directions when dispensing any kind of medication, whether it be over the counter or prescribed.
Curtis, Glade B. and Judith Schuler. Your Baby's First Year Week by Week. Da Capo Lifelong; Cambridge, 2010.