Viruses: looking after your children
Which viruses are common these days? How can you protect your children and what should you be paying special attention to? Pediatrician Dr. Vasso Papavassiliou, Director of the Developmental and Social Pediatrics Center, is giving us her advice.
The new school year is here. Which viruses are common in schools?
After summer, temperatures start to gradually drop, which helps viruses harden their exterior and become more resistant. Children are gathering together in closed spaces, such as in classrooms, gyms, foreign language institutes etc. All of these factors increase the likelihood of contacting a virus. Typical autumn and winter infections are those of the upper and lower respiratory tract; there are several viruses which scientists are trying to predict and prevent by defining the strains. Strains are not always the same in all countries, but because of the very easy spread of these viruses (rhinoviruses, coronaviruses, etc.), epidemics can spread quickly. Viruses in particular are spread by droplets as a result of coughing, sneezing or kissing. They are transmitted through dirty objects, such as spoons, forks, and surfaces. Major outbreaks of known severe and sometimes fatal viruses have also been shown to have spread by infected pets.
What are the typical symptoms of a virus?
Typical symptoms are nasal discharge, headache, fever, and cough, the excretion of mucous, mucous with pus, mucous with blood, and sometimes inflammation. Dyspnea can appear during a severe infection; babies in particular can suffer from obstruction of small airways, i.e. bronchiolitis. If a virus acts as an allergen, we will unfortunately witness the presence of additional symptoms of asthmatic bronchitis, with additional spasms and dyspnoea. When there is an infection, such as microbial bronchopneumonia, the condition worsens and antibiotics and/or hospitalization are needed.
Is prevention the best treatment?
Of course, it is not possible to lock our children in a glass tower. We can, however, use several ways to protect and make them stronger in order to prevent any complications. While we cannot isolate children, WE CAN ALWAYS EDUCATE ADULTS. So instead of using sick leave for the wrong reasons, we can stay home if we are ill and protect the people around us from contacting our virus. Also, if children are ill, keep them as much as possible away from school, not only for their own benefit, but also for the benefit of other children and teachers –especially if there are pregnant women around.
Can we protect our children from colds and viruses by strengthening their immune system?
Speaking of the immune system, we need to bear in mind that all people –including children– do not all have the same resistance, i.e. the same strength or immune system. For example, many scientific works by the University of Athens have shown that allergic children up to four years of age have a deficiency of immunoglobulins A and C. Conditions of wellbeing, with no particular mental trauma, excellent nutrition with all useful ingredients, such as vitamins C and D, combined with exercise can help boost the immune system. In severe cases of hereditary diseases or malignancies, defenses are strengthened using general or specialized injections of immunoglobulins.
Regarding nutrition, it is well known that vegetables, fish and meat help our defenses. In fact, there are excellent vegetable soups for adults; such soups should include oil, parsley and saffron extract. I would like to emphasize that these soups are recommended for adults, because no matter how hard you try, it will be difficult to convince your children to happily eat a vegetable soup. If we are realists, we will also get results.
We should also be careful when consuming beverages that contain sambucus (elderberry), echinacea, calendula, garlic, ginger, olive leaves or the well-known liquorice (which was also known to Theophrastus during the 3rd century BC, and to Dioscorides during the 1st century BC). We should even be careful with the amount of candies we consume!
There are some syrups that contain herbs. They are good, but they are not the magic potion. Do not overdo it and consult your pediatrician who maintains a record of your child’s medical history.
We say “yes” to the flu vaccine, which is different each year, and is especially helpful for high-risk groups. I would also recommend the flu vaccine when there is a newborn in the family, if there is a frail, loving grandfather or grandmother, if there are young siblings who go to school and which have a high risk of contacting the flu.
We teach children (perhaps we should also teach ourselves) to use a napkin or cover their mouth with their left hand when coughing, so when they become adults they will not extend a dirty right hand when handshaking.
How dangerous are viruses?
There are viruses that are not severe, even if they are giving a hard time to children or the entire family. The cycle should be completed, usually without antibiotics (if not contaminated), with good nutrition, antipyretics and ventilation of the patient’s premises. I do not recommend cough medicines; instead I recommend mucolytic medicines, which are relatively innocent and help in the excretion of mucus, as well as nasal solutions. We should violently stop cough only in the case of pertussis (which is unrelated to viruses) or severe laryngitis. On the contrary, if we do not excrete phlegm, there is risk of contamination. In known cases of asthmatic bronchitis, inhalers are administered in parallel. There are also severe viral infections, with epidemics officially proclaimed by states. In such case, specific instructions are followed together with the ones mentioned above.
When should parents visit a pediatrician?
Cypriot parents generally have good, almost family-like relationships with their pediatricians. It is a good idea to not stress and to contact them so that pediatricians can follow up to check how a virus evolves and intervene when necessary. But we must say that Cypriots are good parents; they know their children, and there are very few cases when they will not show interest. It is this wonderful relationship that is keeping the level of pediatrics in Cyprus high. No amateur or ignorant person can intervene in the daily struggle of pediatricians and parents.