Summertime activities and the break from school make this time of year an exciting and blissful period for many children. That is, until they wake up with a headache, a runny nose, and a high temperature.
While this flu-like scenario is commonly associated with the winter months, illnesses occur in all seasons. In fact, some viruses are more commonly caught in the summer - the time when children are thought to be their healthiest. Disease prevention and monitoring are just as important now as it is during the school year, particularly regarding the following types of illnesses:
'Enteroviruses' is the medical term used to describe a group of viruses that cause a number of infectious illnesses. These illnesses are typically mild, although they can become serious should they enter a child’s nervous system. Three types of viruses in particular are common culprits behind a bought with a summer sickness:
- Echovirus. The echovirus is primarily spread by contact with contaminated feces. Symptoms of this virus often vary, but most commonly include cough, mouth sores, sore throat, and skin rashes. In more rare cases, chest pain may occur if the infection affects the heart muscle; and severe headache, mental status changes, nausea and vomiting, and sensitivity to light may occur if the infection affects brain or spinal tissue. Because it has the potential to worsen, it's worth checking with your pediatrician if you have concerns about the mild symptoms listed above. Always call a doctor for chest pain, severe headaches, or other worsening symptoms.
- Coxsackievirus. Coxsackieviruses are highly contagious, spreading easily in group settings like schools, childcare centers, and summer camps. Coxsackievirus can produce a wide variety of symptoms such as high fever, headache, muscle aches, sore throat, abdominal discomfort, or nausea. One of the most common presentations of coxsackievirus is hand, foot, and mouth disease, which appears as fever, mouth pain with sores inside the mouth, and red, blistering rash on hands, feet, and sometimes buttocks. Fortunately, most kids with coxsackievirus infection recover completely after a few days, without needing any medical treatment beyond getting plenty of rest and liquids. Should symptoms begin to worsen, especially worsening pain or decreasing liquid intake, parents should contact their doctor to discuss their next steps.
- Rhinovirus. The rhinovirus is the most common viral infectious agent in humans and is the #1 cause of the common cold. It may also cause pneumonia and bronchiolitis, but this is less common. This contagious virus typically requires home-care only - that means plenty of rest, lots of fluids, and medicine for fever. Don't give over-the-counter cold and cough medicines without first checking with your doctor. While most cold symptoms do not need medical treatment, you should call your doctor for children 3 months or younger with symptoms; and for children of any age with blue lips or nails, difficulty breathing, ear pain, or a cough that is not improving.
In addition to monitoring for summer illness symptoms, families can help prevent the spread of these viruses through vigilant hand-washing practices - especially after diaper changing or using the restroom.
Mosquito- and Tick-Borne Illnesses
Viruses aren’t the only cause of summer illness. Mosquito bites and tick bites are also both potential sources.
- Mosquito bites. Usually just a nuisance, these can sometimes make a child sick if the mosquito was carrying a contagion. In Virginia, West Nile virus, Eastern Equine encephalitis, La Crosse encephalitis, and St. Louis encephalitis are all potential illnesses spread by mosquito bites. Because of this, it’s crucial to adhere to mosquito bite prevention guidelines while outside. Families should also always research the risk of mosquito based illnesses should they travel away from home - domestically or internationally.
- Tick bites. Most people know about the basic dangers of tick bites. Lyme disease is the best-known tick-transmitted disease, although Virginia residents are also diagnosed with Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichiosis. Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever can all have symptoms similar to the flu. That includes fever, fatigue, muscle aches, and headaches. Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), and ehrlichiosis also each has distinctive rashes. The infamous Lyme disease bulls-eye rash affects 70-80% of patients and appears within 3 to 30 days of a tick bite. The Rocky Mountain spotted fever, however, varies greatly from person to person in appearance, location, and time of onset. Most often, the rash begins 2-5 days after the onset of fever as small, flat, pink, non-itchy spots on the wrists, forearms, and ankles; these spots also commonly spread to the torso. Finally, ehrlichiosis rashes affect about 30% of adults and 60% of children, and vary greatly in their presentation. Some people develop lesions with their rash, similar to those found in allergic reactions; others develop small purple, red, or brown spots on the skin.
All three of these tick-borne diseases can be treated with antibiotics. Unfortunately, the mild winters in our state have allowed tick populations to grow for several years. With that in mind, it’s best for parents to help their children avoid tick bites altogether via prevention tactics - that includes tick-proofing your yard, using repellants, and checking your pets before they come into your home.
Food poisoning - a stomach illness caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, or toxins - is more common in the summer than any other season. Higher temperatures and potential exposure to contagions during outdoor events both contribute to higher rates of contamination. And while specific food poisoning causes vary, most present with symptoms similar to a typical “stomach virus” — fever, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.
Most cases of food poisoning don't need medical attention. However, children in particular are vulnerable to dehydration, which could require medical attention. To ensure children receive care as needed for severe food poisoning, call your pediatrician if your child has severe vomiting, belly pain, bloody stools or vomit, little or no urine, and dizziness or weakness.
While no one wants to be sick during the summer, it is always a possibility. By taking appropriate preventative measures and monitoring for symptoms, families can help children minimize their risk as well as recover more quickly should they fall ill.
If you have additional or specific concerns about your child’s health at any time, please contact us. Our team and staff members at Capital Area Pediatrics can help to answer your questions and assist your family in staying as healthy as possible. Additionally, should you need an appointment, be sure to find your nearest location and give our staff a call today!