• Editors of Family Living Magazine

The Sick List

Spotting and treating 3 contagious ailments your child may encounter


Influenza, commonly known as flu, is an infectious respiratory illness. Fall sparks the onset of flu season; it typically peaks in late December to February and then may stretch into May. While seasonal flu and the common cold share many symptoms, a fever is almost always present with the flu and is less common in colds.

The big thing that distinguishes between flu and a cold is that the kids will be really achy with the flu. Their legs will ache, their back will hurt, whereas you wouldn’t normally see that with a cold. And just the way they look. … they just look sicker.

Vaccination is the best method in preventing influenza each year. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu shot each new season in the fall. Children younger than 5, especially those younger than 2, and kids of any age with chronic health problems are at high risk of serious flu complications.

Causes: Influenza is caused by viruses and spreads from person to person through coughs, sneezes and even talking. It is possible to contract it by touching a surface infected with the flu virus, then transmitting it to your mouth, nose or eyes, health experts say. The best way to stop the spread of influenza beyond getting a flu shot is by covering coughs and sneezes and consistent hand- washing with soap and warm water. Those infected should stay at home at least 24 hours after the fever has gone.

Symptoms: These include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, body aches, fatigue and stuffy nose.

Treatment: Antiviral drugs can lessen symptoms and shorten the duration of illness by one or two days, as well as prevent serious flu complications, such as pneumonia. Most of those who get influenza will recover within two weeks, but some will develop severe illness that requires hospitalization.

NOROVIRUS (and other stomach viruses)

The highly contagious norovirus is by far the most common of the stomach viruses. It is often called the stomach flu, but it is not related to influenza. It takes only a small amount of norovirus particles to make someone sick, and people are contagious from the moment they begin feeling sick to the first few days after they recover. The virus can spread quickly in enclosed places such as schools and day care centers, as well as cruise ships and nursing homes.

Causes: Norovirus causes inflammation of the stomach, intestines or both, known as acute gastroenteritis. Symptoms usually develop one to two days after exposure to the virus.

Symptoms: The most common symptoms are vomiting, diarrhea, nausea and stomach pain. Fever, headaches and body aches can also occur.

Treatment: No specific medicine exists, and there is no vaccine for norovirus, the CDC says. It cannot be treated with antibiotics because it is a viral, not a bacterial, infection. The symptoms can lead to dehydration, especially in young children, so it’s important to make sure those who are sick drink plenty of water and rehydration fluids.


Head lice are small insects that live in human hair and feed on blood. Lice die quickly without feeding, so removing them from your child’s head is key. They glue their eggs, or “nits,” to hair, so these can’t be removed with simple brushing.

Causes: Kids can give head lice to others when they touch heads or share combs, hats, headphones or other personal items.

Symptoms: If you notice your child has a persistent, very itchy scalp, check for lice. Nits are usually found about a quarter of an inch from the scalp and stick to the hair, unlike dirt or dandruff. The most common places to find them are at the neckline and behind ears.

Treatment: To get rid of head lice, you should comb your child’s hair with a specialized nit comb twice a day for two weeks (metal flea combs from pet stores work as well). Comb methodically and physically remove with your fingernails any nits that won’t comb out. Over-the-counter treatments with permethrin (Nix) and pyrethrin are available, or your pediatrician can prescribe treatments.

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