Viral Infection In Children – Causes, Symptoms And Remedies

Viral Infection In Children

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As a parent, you will never want to see your child ill and laid out in bed. Unfortunately, viral infections and children seem to be best friends! Your child will contract many infections in school and from other kids. Viral infection in children will be the most frequent of them all.

There are many common illnesses like diarrhea, sore throat, fever, rash, and vomiting, which are classified as viral infections and these are usually not very serious in nature. However, there are certain viral diseases like measles, chickenpox, and mumps, which could lead to severe consequences for your child. Due to widespread awareness of the benefits of vaccination, these diseases could be controlled to a large extent.

If your child is suffering from a viral infection, doctors recommend ibuprofen or acetaminophen. However, do not give aspirin to children below the age of 16 as it could lead to severe complications like Reye Syndrome, which causes the liver and brain to swell up. It generally affects children and young adolescents who are suffering from viral infections like chickenpox or the flu [1].

Understanding Viral Illnesses In Children:

A viral illness in children is any condition caused by a virus. The word ‘virus’ has its origins in Latin and means ‘poison’ or ‘toxin’.

A virus is microscopic in size and consists of a lot of genetic material like DNA and RNA. It is enclosed by a fat (lipid), protein or glycoprotein covering. There a large number of viruses which exist today and some haven’t even been discovered yet. These viruses are responsible for causing illnesses like influenza, tonsillitis, common cold, bronchiolitis and ear infections [2].

Microbiologists the world over disagree on whether viruses can be termed microorganisms because they cannot metabolize on their own, and depend on the host for replication [3]. Hence, some microbiologists refer to viruses as microscopic infection-causing agents. After they gain entry into the host cell, viruses start inserting genetic material and controlling the function of the host cell. The infected cell then starts reproducing more genetic material and viral proteins.

[ Read: Bacterial Infections In Children ]

Causes Of Viral Illnesses In Children:

  • There are certain places like childcare centers and kindergarten or primary schools where viral infections spread from one child to the next. Viruses spread through infected droplets from a runny nose and infected saliva or coughs. They can also spread through vomit and feces, if the infected person is suffering from diarrhea. Your child can also get a viral infection from insect bites.
  • Children contract viral infections due to contaminated water and food. Viruses can spread from one to another (horizontally) or from a mother to her child (vertically). How fast the virus spreads depends mainly on its biological makeup.
  • Children are not usually affected by viral diseases the moment they are exposed to the virus. It takes a couple of days for the symptoms to manifest. In some cases, it can even take two or three weeks.
  • Kids between the ages of one and six tend to get affected by about six or 10 viral diseases if they have not been vaccinated. Sometimes, you may even feel like your child is sick all the time. But this may only be because they tend to catch another viral disease right after recovering from one. As your child grows older, he won’t be as susceptible as he was to viruses, while he can still be affected by them.

[ Read: Cough And Cold In Children ]

The Most Common Diseases Caused By Viruses:

Some of the most common viral illnesses that can afflict your little one include:

  • Common cold
  • Influenza
  • Ear infections
  • Bronchiolitis
  • Tonsillitis
  • Hepatitis
  • Measles
  • Polio
  • Chickenpox
  • Smallpox
  • Dengue
  • Cold sores
  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome)
  • Shingles
  • Hand, foot and mouth disease

Symptoms Of Viral Infection In Children:

Viruses tend to affect small children and young adolescents the most. There is usually nothing much to worry about in the case of children above the age of 13. But if your newborn baby or child below the age of one year gets infected, you must get medical help immediately. The immune system of infants is weak and cannot fight viral infections on its own.

Some of the most common symptoms are as follows:

  • Eyes turn a dull reddish color and release liquid (watery eyes)
  • Sore throat
  • Frequent bouts of vomiting and diarrhea
  • Feeling extremely lethargic and wanting to sleep more
  • A blocked or leaky (runny) nose
  • Loss of appetite
  • Continuous sneezing or coughing
  • High fever which is not going down even after taking medication
  • Body rash which consists of white pus filled boils
  • General feeling of malaise [4]

[ Read: Common Vaccinations For Children ]

Prevention And Treatment Of Viruses:

Unlike bacterial infections, diseases caused due to viruses cannot be treated with antibiotics. They have to be dealt with with the help of antiviral drugs and vaccinations. However, the best treatment for viral illnesses is proper rest at home, where your child can recuperate and where his immune system will be strong enough to fight off the infection.

Viruses can only be prevented with the help of vaccinations. Not only are these shots easily available, but also happen to be the cheapest, most effective and efficient way to deal with viruses.

Vaccinations contain a weak representation of the actual virus known as ‘live-attenuated viruses’ or certain viral protein referred to as ‘antigens’. These viral vaccinations come with a risk attached to them. They are capable of causing the original virus to infect the person taking the vaccine if their immune system is exceptionally weak. But that is rare.

Today, there are vaccinations to guard your child against a variety of viruses like rubella, measles, mumps, smallpox and polio. It is only because of the widespread dispersal of vaccinations that viral diseases like smallpox have been more or less eliminated and reduced to ‘rare’ status.

Since vaccinations did not have any positive effect on the HIV, certain virus-fighting drugs called antiviral drugs were developed. These drugs were created only to slow down or block the growth/development of viruses and not to destroy them. These antiviral drugs do not cause any harm to the host body’s cells.

[ Read: Diarrhea In Children ]

Tips To Protect Your Child From Viral Infection:

There are certain tips you can follow to help protect your child from catching a viral infection:

  • Make sure you vaccinate your child during childhood to fight off viral infections like mumps, rubella, varicella or chickenpox, and measles.
  • Teach your kid to sneeze into his handkerchief or make sure they carry a pack of tissues with them. Ensure he has a hand sanitizer whenever he steps out of the house.
  • Try your best to ensure that your child has a balanced diet and gets the necessary proteins, vitamins and minerals. It is also quite important for your child to get the appropriate amount of sleep every day for his immune system to stay healthy.
  • If your child does catch a viral infection, make him stay home and rest as this is the only way he will recover quickly. It will also prevent him from spreading the infection to other kids [5].

How Does Your Child’s Body Fight With Viruses?

A strong immune system is the only defense your child has against viral infections of any kind.

The immune system helps in the production of certain antibodies whose sole purpose is to bind to viruses and render them incapable of infecting the body. Your kid’s immune system also begins a critical process known as RNA interference, which helps degrade the virus and its genetic material and makes cells strong enough to survive this infection. The body produces some special cells known as T-cells, which are capable of destroying viruses.

Almost every viral disease brings about a protective instinct in the body and the immune system gears up to help kill the virus and drive it out of the body. However, there are certain viruses like HIV/AIDS, which evade the immune system. There is also another category of viruses known as the neurotropic viruses, which also escape the immune system.

Home Remedies For Dealing With Viral Illnesses:

There’s a lot that you can do at home to ensure that your child recovers from viral infections. Some of the most common measures you can take are:

  • Ensure that your child is drinking enough water and other fluids. Water is important because it cleanses the body and helps to flush out toxins.
  • But you should also ensure that your child drinks enough milk and other fluids like Gastrolyte which will rehydrate his system.
  • Make sure your child has enough rest. Do not let him take part in strenuous physical activities and overexert himself.
  • To ease your child’s sore throat (which is a common symptom of most viral infections), you should give him a mouthful of water every 15 minutes. This keeps the throat moist and helps deal with the fluid lost from the body during bouts of fever. You can also give your child diluted juice or cordial as a special treat and also to ensure that they do not suffer from dehydration. Do not worry about these drinks making your child’s sore throat worse. They will only help to soothe the itchiness that comes along with a sore throat.
  • To deal with a stuffed or a runny nose, make use of saline nasal drops.
  • If your child is feeling irritable or extremely lethargic, you could give them ibuprofen (for example Nurofen) or paracetamol (like Dymadon or Panadol) to deal with the pain. If your child has a fever, do not give them paracetamol or ibuprofen. When dealing with viral infections in children, fever helps in healing the body, and if you try to reduce the fever, your child may take a longer time to recover from the illness. Make sure you know what the correct dosage is before you give any medication to your children. Also, check the labels of cough and cold syrups and flu medicines to find out if they contain ibuprofen or paracetamol [6].

What You Should Expect When Your Child Has A Viral Illness:

  • If your child is suffering from a cough, it will probably last for weeks. So, don’t fret.
  • In some cases where children have been previously diagnosed with asthma, viruses can worsen their conditions and trigger an asthma attack.
  • Some children even develop wheeze and other breathing issues. It is probably good to take him to a doctor.
  • Children suffer from viral illnesses for up to two weeks. If the illness continues longer than this, you should take your child to a doctor.
  • A rash is another common symptom that your child may experience. They are usually mild and do not lead to any severe complications. But they can cause extreme itchiness and some discomfort. Rashes only last for a couple of days and tend to go away on their own. In certain cases, children develop a rash after recovering from a fever. This rash could be a sign that your child is slowly recovering.

What Is Viral Fever In Children:

Most babies and young children catch viral fever many times during their childhood because their immune system is still weak. As they grow into adults, their system develops and becomes better equipped to deal with such infections.

Now, most of you will know that getting a fever is a natural reaction which occurs when our body is trying to fight off an infection. However, a fever can sometimes be dangerous if your child’s temperature becomes extremely high and the fever does not subside even after a few days.

Viral fever in kids is a contagious disease and can spread from one person to the next through contaminated droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Coming into direct contact with an infected person can also result in your child developing a viral fever. When the virus enters the body, the immune system kicks into action and increases the temperature of the body in order to get rid of the foreign agent.

[ Read: Fever In Children ]

Symptoms Of Viral Fever In Children:

A viral fever occurs quite frequently, usually during a change of seasons. Sudden body aches and chills are the main symptoms. Other viral fever symptoms in children include:

  • Frequent bouts of diarrhea
  • Recurrent fever which does not subside even with medication (between 100.4 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit or 38.3 degrees to 40 degrees Celsius)
  • Sudden body chills and shivers
  • Dull reddish skin rash
  • Bouts of diarrhea
  • Blocked or a runny nose
  • Tiredness or fatigue

If the viral fever does not subside in three days’ time, take your child to a doctor immediately.

The above symptoms do not pose a threat to your child. Symptoms which can lead to medical emergencies are:

  • Disrupted breathing or breathing difficulties
  • Complete loss of appetite
  • Frequent bouts of vomiting
  • Diarrhea lasting for more than two weeks
  • A severe cough lasting more than three weeks
  • Sudden convulsions
  • Swelling of feet and face
  • Eyes turning a dull reddish tinge

Sometimes, the symptoms mentioned above may not manifest in infants, and it can become difficult to tell whether your baby is suffering from a bacterial or viral fever. So, it is best to take your baby to a doctor as soon as possible. Also, if your baby’s fever is higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, you need to get him to a doctor right away. This is definitely a medical emergency as the immune system of babies is still not fully developed and is often unable to fight off viral infections effectively.

It is good to consult a regular physician and not depend on over-the-counter medication when dealing with viral illnesses. The doctor will most probably recommend that your child take a blood test to determine which pathogen is causing the infection. This way he is better equipped to suggest the right treatment.

How Long Can Viral Fevers Last?

Mostly, viral fevers last for about three to four days. Sometimes your child can get a fever due to illnesses like mononucleosis and influenza. In such cases, the viral fever can last for longer than ten days. You must make sure you keep a record of exactly how many days your child has been suffering from a fever because it will help your doctor to diagnose whether it is a bacterial or viral fever and suggest appropriate medication and treatment.

Children suffering from viral fevers mostly have normal temperatures during the day and show a sudden rise in during the night. Do not be worried as this is normal. Make sure you give your child the medication that the doctor has prescribed and the correct dosage.

If you notice that your baby’s condition is worsening, get medical help immediately because viral fevers, especially in infants, should never be ignored!

How You Can Help Your Child When He Has A Viral Illness:

You feel helpless when your child is suffering from an incessant cough or high temperature. There are certain things you can do to make your baby feel better.

  • To prevent skin peeling, rub moisturizer or petroleum jelly on sensitive areas like the nose.
  • To combat dehydration, make use of oral rehydration salts (ORS).
  • In the case of a blocked nose, use a vaporizer. Try adding a little bit of Vicks VapoRub to the vaporizer.
  • Feed your child warm soup and also give him lots of fluids to soothe his sore throat.
  • You can try bringing down the fever by using the traditional method of dipping a sponge in water (temperature of about 85 to 90 degrees.
  • Fahrenheit) and putting it on the baby’s forehead, around the nape of the neck, and under his arms.

Above all else, make sure your sweet little child rests. Rest is the best cure for viral illnesses of any kind as it gives the body time to heal on its own. How do you combat viral infections in your children? DO you have any home remedies to share?

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