Germ Dossier: How to Beat 5 Common Contagions

Posted On Monday, 29 January 2018
Germ Dossier: How to Beat 5 Common Contagions

If knowing your enemy is one of the first lines of defense in war, the tactic is especially apt when it comes to contending with germs.

To help arm parents in the inevitable germ battle, here’s an overview of five common contagious illnesses and maladies that children are likely to encounter, as well as a few tips and tricks to treat and prevent them.

Influenza

What is it: A viral infection that causes fever, chills, cough, congestion and body aches.

Treatment: Get lots of rest and be sure to stay hydrated. Pain-reducing medicine can help with fever, aches and pain. For high-risk or very sick patients, a doctor can sometimes prescribe Tamiflu, an antiviral medication that can help shorten the flu’s duration.

Prevention: The number-one way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated. This year’s shot is up to 40 percent effective against the H3N2 strain, and even higher against others. Good hand-washing hygiene is also paramount to combatting the flu. Wash hands frequently with soap and hot water.

Gastroenteritis

What is it: Gastroenteritis is an illness caused by a virus that prompts stomach cramps, diarrhea, fever, nausea and vomiting. It’s very contagious and can be spread by dirty hands, contaminated food or water, and pets. People are contagious until symptoms go away and sometimes longer.

Treatment: Gastroenteritis usually goes away without treatment. Rest and hydration are key. Once vomiting stops, resume eating solids but begin with soft foods that are easy on the stomach.

Prevention: The best way to prevent gastroenteritis is through frequent and thorough handwashing. Wash raw fruits and vegetables before cooking, and cook foods thoroughly. Ensure cooking surfaces and utensils are clean.

Lice

What is it: Lice are tiny parasitic insects that live in human hair and feed on tiny bits of blood harvested from the scalp. Because lice and their eggs are so small, the first signs of infestation are scratching and itching of the head, along with small, red bumps or sores from scratching.

Treatment: To kill eggs, brush the child’s hair with a nit comb from root to tip for at least three days in a row. Medicine that kills adult lice can be purchased over the counter. Look for medication with active ingredients such as pyrethins and permethrin lotion/shampoo. Prescription medications are another option if over-the-counter medicines fail. Wash linens and clothing in hot water to kill lice and eggs. Other items that can’t be washed should be sealed in a plastic bag for two weeks or dry cleaned to kill lice and eggs. Be sure to vacuum floors and furniture.

Prevention: Parents should be vigilant in monitoring their children’s heads for lice year-round – not just after symptoms or word of infestation surface. Parents should also teach children not to share hair brushes and combs, accessories, or pillows at sleepovers. Making close contact with friends’ heads to share secrets or take selfies can also put them at risk.

Pink Eye

What is it: Pink eye is an infection of the conjunctiva, or the white part of the eye and inner eyelid. Though pink eye can also be non-infectious, the infectious type is often caused by the same bacteria and viruses responsible for colds and other infections. Symptoms include very pink or red coloring of the eye, discomfort, discharge and swelling.

Treatment: A warm compress and pain reducer can help relieve symptoms, but a doctor must evaluate the eye to determine the full course of treatment. Bacterial pink eye is usually treated with prescription antibiotic drops or ointment. Antibiotics will not help viral pink eye, which must get better on its own.

Prevention: Thorough hand hygiene can help prevent the spread of infectious pink eye. Refrain from sharing linens, cosmetics or glasses with others.

Staph infection

What is it: Staph is a type of bacteria that lives harmlessly on many skin surfaces, but can cause an infection if it enters a wound. More than 30 species comprise the staph family and they can cause a variety of illnesses. Staph is most often transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, though people can get infections through contaminated objects, like linens, clothing or towels.

Treatment: Most staph infections are minor and can be treated at home. Don’t touch the infected skin and keep the area covered when possible. Don’t reuse towels without washing them. Do not shave the infected area. Seek medical attention if the infection worsens and the child feels ill or feverish, or the infected area spreads, or gets red, hot or painful.

Prevention: Frequent handwashing and bathing is the best protection against staph. If another person in the home has a staph infection, don’t share towels, sheets or clothing until the infection clears up.

Reshmi Basu, MD

Dr. Reshmi Basu is a pediatrician at CHOC Children’s, a pediatric health system in Orange County, CA.

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