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Understanding viral infections: How to keep your kids safe

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Last Updated: March 13, 2020, 15:27 IST

Understanding viral infections: How to keep your kids safe

When it comes to viral infections, prevention and vaccinations are way better alternatives than managing the symptoms.

Whether it's H1N1, The Wuhan Virus, Measles or Polio, viruses always seem to be on our front pages and news headlines. Some viral infections like those caused by hepatitis B and C and Epstein- Barr can even cause cancer. While there are several infectious diseases caused by both bacteria and viruses, understanding the difference is crucial. While bacteria multiply outside the human cell and can be destroyed with antibiotics, viruses enter the cell and force it to produce virus particles. This eventually causes severe distress due to fever, diarrhoea,  tissue destruction, immune responses and brain damage, among others and finally kills the host cell. A child's developing immune system is sometimes no match for viral infections. Studies prove that children often contract one virus when recovering from another and can contract viral diseases up to a dozen times in the year. This number only decreases as they grow up, and their immune system gets stronger. Yet, there are many things you should know about when dealing with a viral infection.

Defining a viral infection- what is it?

A viral infection is one that is caused by tiny germs or viruses that infect various parts of the human body. They hijack healthy cells and use them to grow and multiply, making the person sick.

How do children contract a virus?

Public places that see high human traffic are the most significant breeding grounds. Schools, playgrounds, buses, trains and even the elevators in your buildings. Children easily catch a viral infection from being near someone with a runny nose, who is coughing and sneezing without covering their mouths. Infected persons can touch their face, nose and mouth and then transfer the germs to staircase bannisters, car doors, benches and even while holding hands with each other. In areas where sanitation is poor, viruses are also spread via infected faeces or vomit, insect bites, contaminated food and water. Seasonal changes make entire families more susceptible to catching it from each other simply because of the proximity of living in the same house.

How can you tell your kid has a viral infection?

Depending on the kind of infection, the symptoms of viral infection can range from fevers, chills, sneezing, runny nose and blocked sinus, sore throat coupled with bouts of coughing or even watery and painful red eyes. Other signs include mild to severe body ache combined with lethargy, diarrhoea, vomiting, lack of appetite and skin rashes.

While these might all sound like things that happen all the time, suspect a viral infection and head straight to a doctor if they show no sign of subsiding after a few days. A blood test should give you a definitive answer about what kind of virus you have, following which your doctor can prescribe a recommended course of treatment. 

How to treat a viral infection?

When it comes to viral infections, home remedies can help a little but prevention should be your first course of action. In the first place viruses that cause serious diseases can be prevented by proper vaccination. The Government of India provides free of cost vaccination against many vaccine-preventable diseases under their Universal Immunisation Programme.

These include vaccines for:

Rotavirus- Polio, Hepatitis B

Rabies - Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR)

Influenza - Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

However, if you feel like your child has contracted a viral infection, getting a doctor's advice on how to manage it is crucial. Your paediatrician may prescribe proper rest, rehydrating Oral Rehydration Solutions (ORS), something for pain and fever, expectorants and syrups for a cough, nasal irrigation or drops for the nose or a combination of some of these to allow the infection to run its natural course.

Viruses can also be treated by a number of antiviral drugs. While antibiotics don’t work to fight viral infections such as colds or the flu, specific antiviral drugs can fight some infections by eliminating a virus’s ability to grow and reproduce. Unlike antibacterial drugs, which attack a wide spectrum of pathogens, antiviral drugs have a narrower organism target range.

Antiviral drugs now treat a number of viruses, including Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Herpes, Hepatitis B and C and Influenza. Though much like bacteria, viruses are known to mutate over time and can become drug resistant.

Keep your child safe from viral infections by:

  • Boost your kids immunity by encouraging them to eat nutritious and balanced meals and adding a multivitamin or supplement during flu seasons.

  • Make sure you follow the recommended vaccine schedule and keep your child’s boosters updated.

  • Keep kids away from anyone who has a viral infection. This includes family and close friends whom they regularly meet. Avoid physical contact and don’t share utensils with anyone who shows symptoms of having an infection.

  • Frequent hand washing and covering the mouth while sneezing or coughing can also prevent the spread of germs.

  • Changing seasons are peak times for viral infections to flare up. Take extra precautions, carry and use a hand sanitiser to clean your hands thoroughly when soap and water are not available., avoid are more likely to occur. Thus, you need to take extra precautions during this period.

5 simple things to help a child suffering with a viral infection

Viral infections in children can last for a couple of weeks even though they may make a recovery a few days. A lingering cough, rashes and loss of appetite can continue for well after the first few days.

  1. Help your child rest properly. This helps his/her immune system to better fight the virus.

  2. Dehydration from diarrhoea, vomiting or fever is a serious threat. Ensure your child has plenty of fluids like water, clear soups, fresh fruit juices, broths and even ice-cubes if they feel nauseous.

  3. Saline nasal drops can prove useful especially with little ones. When dealing with an infection, they can help clear up a blocked nose and help bring back your child's appetite. A humidifier near their bed can also help them get a restful night's sleep.

  4. Black pepper powder mixed with a little honey can provide relief from a dry cough.

  5. Sterile salt gargles can be very useful to soothe a sore throat while simple steam inhalation helps open up a blocked nose.

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    While usually a viral infection runs its course and dissipates. Though in some cases there can be serious complications. If your child has a fever or cough that refuses to let up, intense vomiting, swollen limbs, trouble breathing, severe diarrhoea, convulsions, blood in the stools over 48 hours, you should contact your doctor immediately.

    This is a partnered post.

    first published:March 13, 2020, 15:26 IST
    last updated:March 13, 2020, 15:27 IST