COUGHS, COLDS AND STOMACH FLU

Rainy season illnesses (Part 1)

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JOCELYN LAUREL

With the rainy season upon us, we expect that many children will be exposed to cough and colds both inside and outside the school. A cough and/or cold virus is easily transferred among children, considering that they are not yet conscious of hygienic measures that need to be taken to prevent the spread of this virus (like coughing on a handkerchief or covering their mouths when they cough).

The problem is compounded since most classrooms are air-conditioned, allowing the cold virus to linger and spread easily inside the classroom rather than escape through open windows.

Another common illness prevalent during the rainy season is the stomach flu. Stomach flu is actually a nickname for viral gastroenteritis, which is caused by a number of viruses, such as the norovirus, rotavirus, and adenovirus. These viruses target the digestive tract and cause inflammation of the stomach and intestines.

Here are some characteristics and symptoms of these common illnesses to watch out for during the rainy season:

Cough and cold virus
The common colds, which include chest and head cold, as well as seasonal flu are caused by viruses. The use of over-the-counter cold medications can relieve symptoms including sore throat, runny nose, congestion, and cough. Flu symptoms are similar, but include fever, headache and muscle soreness.

It’s important to know the difference between flu and cold symptoms. A cold is a milder respiratory illness than the flu. While cold symptoms can make you feel bad for a few days, flu symptomscan make you feel quite ill for a few days to weeks. The flucan also result in serious health problems such as pneumonia.

What are common cold symptoms?

Cold symptoms usually begin with a sore throat, which normally goes away after a day or two. Nasal symptoms, runny nose, and congestion follow, along with a cough by the fourth and fifth days. Fever is uncommon in adults, but a slight fever is possible. Children are more likely to have a fever with a cold.

Colds are contagious during the first three days hence, parents must keep their children at home during this time

With cold symptoms, the nose teems with watery nasal secretions for the first few days. Later, these secretions become thicker and darker. Dark mucus is natural and does not usually mean you have developed a bacterial infection such as a sinus infection.

How long do cold symptoms last?

Cold symptoms usually last for about a week. During the first three days that you have cold symptoms, you are contagious. This means you can pass the cold to others, so stay home and get some much-needed rest. It would therefore be for the best interest of all children if parents would use prudence and wise judgement in keeping their children at home if they are experiencing a bad cough or cold. Additionally, seeking the necessary medical attention from the child’s pediatrician is highly recommended.

If cold symptoms do not seem to be improving after a week, you may have a bacterial infection, which means you may need antibiotics.

Sometimes cold symptoms can be mistaken for allergic rhinitis or a sinus infection. If cold symptoms begin quickly and are improving after a week, then it is a cold, not an allergy. If cold symptoms do not seem to be getting better after a week, check with your doctor to see if you have developed an allergy or sinusitis.

What are common flu symptoms?

Flu symptoms are usually more severe than cold symptoms and come on quickly. Symptoms of flu include sore throat, fever, headache, muscle aches and soreness, congestion, and cough.

Most flu symptoms gradually improve over two to five days, but it’s not uncommon to feel run down for a week or more. A common complication of the flu is pneumonia, particularly in the young, elderly, or people with lung or heart problems. If you notice shortness of breath, let your doctor know. Another common sign of pneumonia is fever that comes back after having been gone for a day or two.

Just like cold viruses, flu viruses enter your body through the mucous membranes of the nose, eyes, or mouth. Every time you touch your hand to one of these areas, you could be infecting yourself with a virus, which makes it very important to keep hands germ-free with frequent washing to prevent both flu and cold symptoms.

Is it flu or cold symptoms?

How do you know if you have flu or cold symptoms? Take your temperature, say many experts. Flu symptoms often mimic cold symptoms with nasal congestion, cough, aches, and malaise. But a common cold rarely has symptoms of fever above 101 degrees. With flu symptoms, you will probably have a fever initially with the flu virus and you will feel miserable. Body and muscle aches are also more common with the flu.

When do I call the doctor with flu or cold symptoms?

If you already have flu or cold symptoms, it’s important to call your doctor if you also have any of the following severe symptoms:

Persistent fever: A fever lasting more than three days can be a sign of another bacterial infection that should be treated.

Painful swallowing: Although a sore throat from a cold or flu can cause mild discomfort, severe pain could mean strep throat, which requires treatment by a doctor.

Persistent coughing: When a cough doesn’t go away after two or three weeks, it could be bronchitis, which may need an antibiotic. Postnasal drip or sinusitis can also result in a persistent cough. In addition, asthma is another cause of persistent coughing.

Persistent congestion and headaches: When colds and allergies cause congestion and blockage of sinus passages, they can lead to a sinus infection (sinusitis). If you have pain around the eyes and face with thick nasal discharge after a week, you may have a bacterial infection and possibly need an antibiotic. Most sinus infections, however, do not need an antibiotic.

In some cases, you may need to get emergency medical attention right away. In adults, signs of a crisis include:

– Severe chest pain
– Severe headache
– Shortness of breath
– Dizziness
– Confusion
– Persistent vomiting

In children, additional signs of an emergency are:
– Difficulty breathing or rapid breathing
– Bluish skin color
– Not drinking enough fluids
– Lethargy and failure to interact normally
– Extreme irritability or distress
– Symptoms that were improving and then suddenly worsen
– Fever with a rash

Can I prevent flu or cold symptoms?
The most important prevention measure for preventing colds and flu is frequent hand washing. Hand washing by rubbing the hands with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds helps to slough germs off the skin.

In addition to hand washing to prevent flu or cold symptoms, you can also get a flu vaccine to prevent seasonal influenza. Within two weeks of getting a flu vaccine, antibodies develop in the body and provide protection against flu. Children receiving the vaccine for the first time need two doses delivered one month apart.

Antiviral medicine may also help prevent flu if you have been exposed to someone with flu symptoms.

Stomach flu
Officially called gastroenteritis, stomach flu is an infection of the digestive system—and is totally unrelated to the regular flu (influenza), which affects the respiratory system. Stomach flu is the second most common illness kids get, after respiratory infections like colds. Although unpleasant, stomach flu is usually not serious. It’s usually caused by viruses, but can also come from bacteria like salmonella and E. coli, as well as some parasites.

What causes stomach flu?

Stomach bugs are highly contagious. Playing with an infected child is the main way the virus spreads, since germs can live on toys and clothes for hours or even days. If the infection results from bacteria or parasites, your child may have consumed contaminated food or water.

What makes stomach flu particularly virulent is that children are contagious before they actually show any symptoms. Also, adults—with their heartier immune systems—may harbor the germs and pass them along without ever getting sick themselves.

What are the symptoms?

The early signs of stomach flu can be easy to miss, especially in babies and toddlers. Be on the lookout for the following:
– Fever
– Vomiting (more volume than usual everyday spit-up)
– Watery diarrhea
– Fussiness or irritability
– Acting more tired and sluggish than usual
– Decreased appetite

Older children may also complain of tummy cramps, muscle aches, and headaches. Symptoms generally set in one to three days after your kid’s been exposed to the bug, and can last anywhere from a day or two up to 10. The main risks from stomach flu are not from the symptoms themselves (although unpleasant), but the fact that upset stomach can make your child very dehydrated.

When to see your doctor
Most cases of gastroenteritis go away on their own. See the doctor if the vomiting and diarrhea continue more than a few days, or if you notice any signs of dehydration like:
– Not urinating
– Dry mouth (no saliva)
– Crying without tears
– Fever over 102-degrees Fahrenheit
– Lack of energy
– Crankiness
– Soft spot on the top of the baby’s head is sunken
– Blood or pus in stool or vomit, or having a dark, tarry stool

Prevention is the best medicine
Follow these easy steps:
Wash hands often with warm soap and water, especially when you use the bathroom, change diapers, and before and after you handle food. Good soap and water hand-washing is probably our best protection.

Wash all fruits and vegetables before eating them. Cook meat all the way through. This may prevent gastroenteritis caused by bacteria.

If the diarrhea doesn’t go away, has blood in it, or if you and your child were recently traveling internationally to certain parts of the world, your doctor may need to run some tests and may prescribe antibiotics.

Sources:
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissia on September 17, 2016; WebMD Feature Reviewed by Amita Shroff, MD on June 20, 2017

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