Viral Illnesses Flourish in the Fall
Fall ushers in a new season and new opportunities for students who start a new school year. It also can trigger illnesses that spread quickly, affecting adults and children alike. "We typically treat many viral illnesses in the fall, such as upper respiratory infections (cough, cold symptoms, low grade fever), influenza (fever, chills, cough, muscle aches) and gastroenteritis (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea)," says Lee Memorial Health System physician Gary Goforth, M.D.
"Prior to the current vaccination schedule, we used to see many cases of chickenpox (varicella), whooping cough (pertussis), measles, mumps and rubella. Parents are encouraged to obtain all vaccines for their children because we are seeing a recurrence of whooping cough and some cases of chickenpox, even though these diseases are preventable with vaccines."
Treatments for these common illnesses are typically not complicated and many include over-the-counter medications. "We are now trying to discourage antibiotics for viral infections since they have no effect on viruses and can result in many complications such as allergies, C. difficile infection and vaginal yeast infections," Dr. Goforth says.
"The viral illnesses can be treated in an effort to control symptoms—cold and cough drops, syrups and pills to control runny nose, cough, congestion; acetaminophen (Tylenol™) or ibuprofen (Motrin™, Advil™) to control fever; oral rehydration solution and electrolyte containing solutions for gastroenteritis to prevent dehydration." Dr. Goforth recommends an annual flu vaccine to prevent catching the influenza virus.
"Everyone older than 6 months of age, including pregnant women, should receive the influenza vaccine each fall," he says. "For healthy people ages 2-49 years old—;including women who are not pregnant—we can use either LAIV (live attenuated influenza vaccine) or TIV (trivalent inactivated influenza vaccine) vaccines. Children younger than 9 years old who are receiving the influenza vaccine for the first time or who only received one dose during the previous season should receive two doses separated by at least 4 weeks."
Dr. Goforth cautions parents that children younger than age 2 should not take over- the-counter medications because of potential side effects. "Antibiotics are typically not needed unless symptoms persist 10 days or more," he says. "Viral conditions generally resolve in one to two weeks with supportive therapy. However, if influenza is suspected, treatment should be started within 48 hours of symptom onset to be most effective."
The best medication is not to get ill in the first place. Dr. Goforth says that vaccinating is the first line of defense, but, by following a few simple guidelines, parents can minimize the risk of illness to themselves and their families:
- Make sure children get plenty of sleep (at least 8 hours per night)
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Wash hands frequently
- Cover your mouth when coughing
- Avoid exposing children to those with known communicable diseases
- Make sure all vaccines are current
- Sand in the urine
Sick Kids: Viral vs. Bacterial
Gary Goforth, M.D
Lee Physician Group
2780 Cleveland Avenue
Fort Myers, FL 33901