Coping with Colds

When germs go viral, there’s nothing to do but rest and wait.

When something “goes viral” on the Internet, we rejoice in the power of technology and connection. But when germs go viral among our little ones, we groan in anticipation of our impending house arrest.

Unfortunately, viruses travel at warp speed and none of us are immune. If your family has fallen victim to a bug, a little education goes a long way to recovering health.

Viral Versus Bacterial

If your child is feeling ill, the first thing you need to determine is whether the infection is viral or bacterial. The most common illnesses in children are viral in nature; however, strep throat is bacterial, so it’s imperative to accurately determine the nature of your child’s illness in order to properly treat it.

Bacterial infections—such as strep throat—are treated with antibiotics; viral infections should never be treated with antibiotics—the drugs will do nothing to conquer the infection and, even worse, over-prescription of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria later in life, which can have serious consequences.

Viral illnesses include a bevy of symptoms such as fever, runny nose, cough, sore throat, fatigue, and achy muscles.

In order to accurately distinguish between a virus and strep throat, most doctors use the Centor criteria, which consists of the following four questions:

  • Does the child have a fever?
  • Are the tonsils affected with pus pockets?
  • Are the lymph nodes in the neck tender?
  • Is there an absence of a cough?

If the patient scores a zero or one, they are treated for a virus. If they score a four, they are often treated for strep throat (with antibiotics) without even undergoing a throat culture. If a patient scores a two or three, most physicians will take a throat culture and then treat accordingly. Though the Centor criteria is not perfect, it does accurately classify illness most of the time and is critical for preventing antibiotic abuse.

When Viruses Go Viral

Most of the illnesses your child faces are viral. Sniffling, coughing, sneezing kids forget to wash their hands at school and then touch doorknobs, desks, and toys and voila—within seconds, germs are transferred.

Unfortunately, viruses come on slowly so it can be one or two weeks before your child experiences the first symptoms of the virus he caught while sharing the building blocks at school. In the meantime, the germs have spread to everyone in your household.

Treating a Virus

Viral infections cannot be cured with medications. Instead, you’ll have to use the most ancient “medicine” there is—time. Most viruses last for 10 to 21 days before the symptoms gradually resolve themselves. In the meantime, you can treat the symptoms by providing plenty of fluids and rest. If you are unsure about your child’s illness, be sure to see a physician.