Caring for children with fevers and respiratory illness

Caring for children with fevers and respiratory illness

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An expected surge in respiratory illnesses is anticipated this year and we want to make sure families and our community have the information and resources they need to be informed.

Use the buttons below to learn how to protect yourself and family, tips to care for children with respiratory illnesses, when should you take a child to our Emergency Departments, and additional information about respiratory illnesses, such as COVID-19, influenza (flu), and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

How to protect yourself and family

Follow these prevention measures to help prevent getting sick in the first place:

  • Wear a mask (and have your child wear a mask) in public indoor settings.
  • Get the flu shot and keep COVID-19 vaccinations up-to-date.
  • Wash hands often and thoroughly or use hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.
  • Stay home, and keep your child home, when unwell.

Vaccinations remain the best form of protection against COVID-19 and influenza (flu). We encourage anyone who is eligible and has not received their full dose of vaccination, including boosters, to do so as soon as possible to help protect themselves and their community.

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Tips to care for children with respiratory illnesses

Most respiratory illness in children can be managed at home without prescription medications. Try to keep your child comfortable and treat their symptoms. Water, soups, sports drinks, and even popsicles can help your child get enough fluids. If your baby only drinks breastmilk or formula, that is enough for them and they don’t need additional water. Many children will be less hungry when they are sick and not interested in eating. It’s ok if your child eats less solid foods for a few days.

Here are some ways to support your child’s symptoms at home if they have COVID-19, influenza (flu), or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV):

Fever

  • Fevers can help activate your immune system and fight illness. If your child feels fine, there is no need to treat a fever.
  • Focus less on the actual temperature of your child (there is no link with severity of illness and degree of fever) but rather on how your child is behaving. Children that remain lethargic or listless even when you treat the fever should be assessed. Those that bounce back when the fever is treated with medicine can be managed at home.
  • If your child is fussy or uncomfortable, treat with over-the-counter medicines such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil).
  • If your child is over 3 months of age and has a fever that lasts for more than three days, they should see a health care provider.
  • If your child is under 3 months of age and has a fever, they should be assessed by a health care provider.

Red eyes and discharge (pink eye)

  • This is usually a symptom of viral illness, especially if your child also has cold symptoms and does not require antibiotics.
  • You can reduce discomfort with warm compresses and artificial tears.

Stuffy or running nose

  •  Use saline rinsing sprays, a humidifier, or a nasal aspirator/snot sucker.

Earache

  • Most ear infections are also viral and usually go away on their own in 2-3 days.
  • Your child should see a health care provider if their earache lasts more than 48-72 hours, if there is discharge from the ear or if your child has had more than 2-3 ear infections in the last year.

Cough

  • A humidifier or steam from a shower may help.
  • Warm drinks can help soothe the throat and so can a spoonful of honey for children over one year old.
  • Don’t give over-the-counter cough and cold medicines to children younger than six years old.
  • If the cough sounds like a bark and is worse at night, it is likely a croup cough and cool air can really help. Bundle up yourself and child and go outside into the cool air.
  • If your child is struggling with breathing, you should visit our Emergency Departments. Otherwise, plan to follow-up with a health care provider as there is an excellent single dose treatment (Dexamethasone) for croup cough that will help reduce the chances of a second night of coughing and a possible visit to our Emergency Departments. 

If your child needs to see a doctor and you are unable to see your family doctor or paediatrician, or you don’t have one, you can access Oak Valley Health’s COVID-19, Cold, and Flu Care Clinic. Same day and next-day appointments are available to see a doctor.

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When should you take a child to our Emergency Departments

Our Emergency Departments are open, safe, and available to care for those who need immediate care. If you have a serious medical concern, please come to our Emergency Departments.

No one knows their child better than their parents or guardian so please seek care if you are worried about their health. Unsure if your child is in need of emergency care? Here are some general examples:

  • If you are worried that your child is seriously ill
  • If your baby younger than three months old has a fever
  • If you child is struggling to breathe or breathing faster than normal
  • If you are concerned that your child is at risk of dehydration or is dehydrated

Other resources

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Additional information about respiratory illnesses

Use the the tabs below to see specific information related to COVID-19, influenza (flu), and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

COVID-19

Caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, COVID-19 was first identified in late 2019. Most people will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness. And most recover without special treatment. However, some will require medical attention and could become seriously ill.

Vaccinations remain the best form of protection against COVID-19. We encourage anyone who is eligible and has not received their full dose of vaccination, including boosters, to do so as soon as possible to help protect themselves and their community.

If you think you have COVID-19, contact your primary care provider or you may be eligible to book an appointment at our COVID-19, Cold, and Flu Care Clinic. If you have symptoms or have been in contact with someone that does, please follow the current public health measures and advice.

Other resources

Influenza (flu)

Influenza (flu) is a respiratory virus that circulates most frequently in the fall and winter. Influenza spreads from person-to-person through coughing, sneezing, or having face-to-face contact. It can cause mild to severe respiratory disease. While anyone can get influenza, the very young, the elderly, and people with certain medical conditions are at higher risk of complications.

Vaccinations remain the best form of protection against the flu. We encourage anyone who is eligible to do so as soon as possible to help protect themselves and their community.

If you have the flu, contact your primary care provider or you may be eligible to book an appointment at our COVID-19, Cold, and Flu Care Clinic.

Other resources

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a virus that infects the lungs and airways. RSV can affect anyone of any age, but it is most common in infancy and early childhood. Almost all children will have an RSV infection by the age of two to three years. RSV infections tend to occur from fall to spring in Canada.

RSV is usually a mild disease that goes away on its own and does not require medical attention or treatment.

What are the symptoms of RSV

  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Fever
  • Wheezing
  • Decrease in appetite and energy
  • Irritability

How does RSV spread

  • Touching droplets containing the virus after someone coughs or sneezes
  • Being close (less than two meters apart) to someone with the infection who is coughing or sneezing
  • Touching something that has the virus, such as toys, door handles, furniture, or countertops

How is RSV treated

As long as your child is breathing comfortably, their skin does not look blue, and they are drinking and urinating as usual, you can take care of your child at home. In most cases, it takes a week or two for children to get better.

Other resources

The Ontario government offers a series of monthly injections with a vaccine-like medication called palivizumab (Synagis) to protect babies who are most at risk for developing complications from a RSV infection. However, not all babies are eligible. If your baby was born at less than 33 weeks gestation, they will most likely qualify to receive Synagis during RSV season either in hospital, at a paediatrician’s office, or in the Synagis Clinic at Markham Stouffville Hospital. If your baby is born between 33 and 36 weeks gestation, a questionnaire will be completed by your nurse to determine whether or not your baby is eligible.