A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

What is a virus? 4 things you should know

Kids/ girl / blowing nose / Virus

When kids are not feeling well, our first instinct is to take them to see their pediatrician. With a virus, that may not be the best plan.

When kids are not feeling well, our first instinct is to take them to see their pediatrician. We take them to the doctor’s office and hope the doctor can give them something…anything. After the exam, you find out your child has a virus.

A virus is a specific type of infection that cannot be treated with an antibiotic. Viruses cause:

An antibiotic is only used to treat bacterial infections such as bacterial pneumonia, whooping cough and strep throat. Antibiotics have risks and the overuse of them is a serious problem.

Your body will fight a virus

“For a virus, you have to give the body time to clear it up,” said Dr. Cynthia Henry, pediatrician with Marshfield Children’s. “Your body has to do the work to treat the infection.”

When your child has a virus, the main thing you can do is provide symptomatic care. This includes:

There are many types of viruses

More than 30 different types of viruses exist – each with different symptoms. Despite this, your child’s pediatrician probably will not diagnose the specific type of virus.

“There are viral panels, but you cannot get the results very fast. Also, once you do find out what type of virus it is, there isn’t much you can do about it,” Henry said.

In most cases, finding the type of virus will not change the outcome. Performing the test also increases the cost of care. For these reasons, viral panels are not typically used.

Call your doctor before coming in

If your child is sick, they should stay home until they feel better.

“Every time your child goes out, you are exposing people to those germs,” Henry said.

If you have questions or concerns about your child being sick, you can call you child’s pediatrician. They can help assess your child and decide if you should bring them in to see a provider.

When your child is sick, everyone in the household should wash their hands regularly, cover their coughs and not share cups or utensils.

Some viruses are preventable

While viruses cannot be treated with antibiotics, some can be prevented with vaccines. Many viruses including influenza (flu), chickenpox and rotavirus have vaccines available to prevent them from even happening.

Vaccinations protect you, your family and the community from disease. Before vaccines, thousands of children and adults died each year. Vaccinations are the best protection against common diseases.

For more information about viruses and available vaccines, talk to your child’s pediatrician.

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