As I was about to leave the room after seeing a child with a cold the other day, his mother asked, “How do I know that my child doesn’t have enterovirus? Is enterovirus contagious?”
Lately, I’m hearing this type of question more and more. And frankly, with all that’s going on out there with this and other viruses, including Ebola, I am not surprised that parents are concerned.
Enterovirus D68 has infected many children. The CDC is reporting that more than 40 states have confirmed cases. Not only have there been many hospitalizations, but alarmingly there have been cases of paralysis that may be associated with it. Some deaths have also been reported, although it’s unclear whether the deaths were from the virus itself or from complications associated with it.
As a mom myself, I completely understand how concerning this can be. It is a respiratory virus and kids can get it easily, just by being near someone who coughs or sneezes. But as a pediatrician, I can tell you that the overwhelming majority of kids who are getting this and other respiratory viruses are not ending up in the hospital. Most children that have cold and cough symptoms and even fever end up getting better in a few days.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful. It’s not fun for any child to get sick, even if the illness is mild. And it’s certainly not fun for them to miss school, soccer practice, or that friend’s birthday party. And for many moms and dads, missing work is a real challenge.
I definitely don’t like my kids getting sick. Here are some tips I use to help them avoid getting enterovirus and the other respiratory bugs out there:
1. Wash your hands. Have your kids wash for two rounds of the “Happy Birthday” song, about 20 seconds. My kids need to wash their hands as soon as they come home from school and always before a meal or snack.
2. Don’t let your kids touch their eyes or mouth, especially if they haven’t washed their hands. I know this is a tough one, but that’s a common way for them to get infections.
3. Don’t share food or drinks. Often people don’t even know they’re infected and can pass on the infection even though they appear well.
4. If your kids are sick, ask them to cough into their shoulder or sleeve, not into hands or into the air. This will help others around them not get infected.
5. Keep your child home if he’s sick. Sending a sick child to school is a sure way to spread that infection.
If your child has underlying asthma or respiratory problems, enterovirus D68 can cause shortness of breath, trouble breathing, and wheezing. If this happens or you’re worried, talk to your doctor. But if your child has a mild cold, cough, or even fever, yet otherwise seems to be himself, remember: It will most likely go away in a few days. And with some old-fashioned rest, fluids, and of course, TLC, your child will be all better.