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Winter Is Coming and So Are The Viruses

Winter is nearly here, and with it comes lower temperatures, more outdoor time, but also common illnesses that frequently affect children. Respiratory infections, viral rashes and diarrhoea will be on the rise during these cooler months, and although they may affect the whole family, children are especially vulnerable.

Respiratory viruses

Respiratory infections during this time of year are usually produced by viruses that flourish in dry air. Influenza viruses cause symptoms such as fever, shakes, fatigue and a hacking cough. Parainfluenza viruses can also cause croup (hoarseness of the voice, barking cough) and Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which can be caused by bacteria or allergies, can manifest as bronchiolitis, producing wheezes similar to asthma. These symptoms may be exacerbated in children with allergies. 

Although respiratory infections cannot be avoided, there are some measures that can help prevent complications and will contribute to the proper management of these diseases. Dr Amani Ibrahim, a paediatrician at the Feto Maternal Medical Centre Doha, provided some advice in this regard. "Children older than six months should get the flu vaccine during the first months of the cold season as it takes approximately three weeks to provide the immunity needed against flu infections, and it is supposed to be specific for different regions in the world.” She continued, "Also, vitamin C and breastfeeding are important preventive measures as well as teaching children common hygiene: washing their hands, using hankies or tissues in the proper way, even going into detail about using them with their left hands, because they use their right hand for eating,” she pointed out.

Once your kids have been infected, getting rid of the mucus is the best approach. Getting rid of the mucus will help prevent the spread of the infection to eyes and ears limiting the possibilities of pink eye or ear infections. Dr Ibrahim suggested to ”make sure that mucus stays moist by using saline drops, sprays, a nebulizer or even a steam bath. This will dissolve the mucus and the child will swallow it and it will come out in the stool. Or in the case of older children, parents may remove it mechanically either with a suction bulb or tube." 

Viral infections

Other prevalent diseases during this time of year are viral infections associated with rashes. In Qatar, one of the most common is Hand Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD), which according to Hamad Medical Corporation, 3,500 children are diagnosed with annually. This infection can be quite alarming for parents, as it produces a blistering rash in the palms of the hands, soles of the feet and inside the mouth. It usually starts with throat pain or infection and produces rashes after a couple of days. 

"Although we do ask parents to keep the children at home while they’re sick with this disease, it will start spreading before the clear signs show, so you cannot avoid it if your child was exposed to it by another child," said Dr Ibrahim.

This virus is found in the nose and throat secretions, saliva, blister fluid and stool, so special attention should be paid to hygiene and the proper disposal of nappies. 

"Proper hygiene is enough to lower the risk of infection. To manage the illness, I advise parents to keep children hydrated and help them with a nutrition plan as loss of appetite is another common symptom,” she advised.

Tummy troubles

Hydration is also paramount in children suffering from gastroenteritis, another common disease in Qatar during the winter season. It is usually due to a viral infection and more than 90% of cases are due to rotavirus. "Luckily, It is one of the viruses we vaccinate our children against and that is why rotavirus infections are not as prolonged and debilitating as they used to be,” Dr Ibrahim explained. 

The symptoms are related to the loss of fluid either through vomiting or diarrhoea. Caring for a child with gastroenteritis is not very different from the recommendations for HFMD: paying attention to hydration and the evolution of the symptoms. 

Keeping children hydrated is the most important. “Home-made fluids like rice water will keep the child hydrated while adding to the nutrition because they provide carbs,” Dr Ibrahim suggested. Sugary foods and milk should be avoided if the diarrhoea is severe or prolonged. Yogurt or lactose-free milk is recommended as well as simple foods like toast or bananas, which are rich in potassium—a mineral necessary for maintaining proper bowel activity," she continued. Oral hydration fluids or oral electrolyte solution sashes are also appropriate for treating mild or moderate dehydration. 

Dr Ibrahim also encourages parents to use a heavy layer of nappy cream with high zinc content on babies and toddlers, to help prevent and treat nappy rashes from the diarrhoea. Also, keeping a child nappy-free for half an hour or so will help prevent rashes, because dampness can complicate the infection.

In most cases, these viral infections can be easily managed at home with proper medical guidance but remember prevention is the best medicine, so focusing on hygiene, vitamins and hydration could make your child's winter much more enjoyable.

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