Mar 19, 2018

Dr. Gellner: Every winter, we see a lot of kids with coughs, runny nose, sore throat, fevers, diarrhea, and we all immediately think it's the flu. But is it? I'll talk about influenza versus adenovirus on today's Scope. I'm Dr. Cindy Gellner.

Announcer: Keep your kids healthy and happy. You are now entering "The Healthy Kid Zone" with Dr. Cindy Gellner on The Scope.

Dr. Gellner: Wintertime is the worst for parents. It seems our kids are constantly sick. Everyone has runny noses, coughs, sore throats, fevers, vomiting, diarrhea, the list goes on. And the flu can definitely cause all of these symptoms. But there is another virus that loves to make us miserable too. It's a virus we pediatricians often call the mimicker virus, because it can mimic the symptoms of the flu or pinkeye or the stomach virus and even appendicitis. It's called adenovirus, and it's a nasty virus that's around all year, not just in winter.

There are over 60 types of adenoviruses, and they can all cause different symptoms. With adenovirus, most symptoms last about 10 days. And most symptoms are easily treated with nasal saline for congestion, fever reducers, and rest. This is in contrast to influenza where symptoms can be so bad that kids get dehydrated, have problems breathing, and can be so truly lethargic that it's scary to watch.

Both viruses are spread by direct contact with someone who is coughing or sneezing or contact with door handles and light switches that someone who had these viruses touches. Adenovirus can live on surfaces for weeks. Unlike influenza, which can cause outbreaks, adenovirus is usually sporadic, a case here, a case there, and they're usually not deadly.

While doctors do test for influenza, they usually don't test the child for adenovirus, unless the child is being admitted to the hospital. So sometimes it's hard to determine if that's what a child has or not. Regardless of if the virus is influenza, adenovirus or any of the other viruses that makes our kids miserable, the best way to keep your child virus-free is to teach them to wash their hands frequently and avoid touching their faces.

Kids like to put their fingers in their noses and their mouths, and that is exactly how the viruses get into their bodies and start making them sick. As a pediatrician, I know how frustrating it is to tell parents, "I'm sorry, it's a virus," because there isn't much we can do for your child in terms of medications. But I do tell parents viruses can be anything but benign, and they can make your child seem more ill than if they had a bacterial infection.

If you ever have any concerns about viruses, be sure to talk to your child and take your child to see their pediatrician. And definitely take their viral illnesses seriously.

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