Contagious Diseases and Siblings

Written by Jesse Hackell MD

In the fall of 1957, the Asian influenza pandemic was spreading across the country. My younger sister had just been diagnosed with that flu, and my grandmother had arrived shortly thereafter to help at our home when my mother entered the hospital to give birth to another sister. In those days, one could count of a solid seven days in the maternity hospital, even for an uncomplicated delivery.

Knowing the extremely contagious nature of the flu (she had lived through the devastating influenza pandemic of 1918), my grandmother set out with every weapon known to modern grandmotherhood to prevent my father and me from getting sick, fearing the consequences for my mother and newborn sister. With isolation, chicken soup and constant scrubbing and disinfecting, my father and I were spared the disease, as were my mother and sister, and, as long as she lived, my grandmother delighted in telling the story of how she confounded the pediatrician who had predicted that we would all very soon be ill.

Flash forward fifty-four years to 2011. What are the risks to siblings today when one member of a family contracts a communicable disease, and how should we respond? I think that the answer depends on many factors, one of which concerns the nature of the particular illness that one person has contracted.

Viral Illnesses

Some viral illnesses are highly contagious, even without direct contact. Certainly chicken pox and measles used to spread through families like wildfires, but immunization has largely reduced the occurrence of these diseases, primarily by greatly reducing the amount of disease in circulation, and, further, by producing immunity in children who might somehow be exposed. The same goes for influenza, the bane of my grandmother; since universal influenza immunization was recommended a few years ago, the burden of disease has been reduced, although not as much as it could be if everyone actually did get their flu shots.

Contagious Illnesses

How about other types of infectious, contagious illnesses? The common cold is just that, common, and most people will suffer one or multiple episodes each year. Unfortunately, there is no effective preventive immunization, and it does tend to spread readily; fortunately, it tends, in most people, to be relatively  mild and of short duration.

Strep Throat

Strep throat is another common contagious illness, especially in children. There certainly are families where multiple members will get strep in close temporal relationship to each other, and these may be the result of spread within the family.

But it is also possible that multiple family members were exposed at school or work, and contracted the illness elsewhere.  But strep is harder to spread than some of the illnesses discussed previously, and there are many cases where one family member gets it, and no one else becomes sick. This is one illness where good handwashing, and avoidance of sharing of food, utensils and so on, can be a useful preventive measure.

Infectious Mononucleosis

The same can be said for infectious mononucleosis–“mono,” also known as the “kissing disease,” primarily for its reputation as a common occurrence during adolescence. Yet in most of the families where one child has mono, it is very uncommon for other siblings to also contract it. Thus simply sharing a room, or time at the dinner table, is generally not enough to transmit an illness like mono.

Pneumonia

Pneumonia in children is also common, and the vast majority of cases are viral in origin–and they are often caused by the same viruses which cause the common cold. I tend to think of most cases of pneumonia as “a common infection in an uncommon place,” and generally feel that, while another member of a family might catch the same virus, it is far less likely to be caught as pneumonia. Rather, it might cause a head cold, sore throat or ear infection in someone else.

So why does this matter?

Rare is the day which goes by that I am not asked a question like “his brother has strep (or pneumonia of the flu or…), so why can’t you just treat all my kids for it without having to see them?” In response, it is important to point out that every person who gets a fever after being in contact with someone who has strep is far from guaranteed to have strep as the cause of that fever; most illnesses are just not that contagious, and most fevers require individual evaluation regardless of the person’s exposure.

The same thinking goes into my response to the schools who send home notices every time someone in a class is diagnosed with strep, ostensibly warning parents to be on the lookout for strep in their children. About the only thing these notices accomplish is the wasting of paper.

I would far prefer that parents react to each of their children’s illnesses in a vacuum, paying no attention to what the child might have been exposed to (assuming, of course, that the child has been fully immunized, thus pretty effectively–but not 100% completely– ruling out those preventable illnesses as a cause of the fever.)

What to do when your child is ill

When your child is ill, pay more attention to how he or she is acting, how sick he or she appears, and how well the illness is being handled by the child, than to what diseases he or she might have been exposed to.  Discussing that information with your pediatrician will enable you to better decide what y our next course of action should be for evaluating the illness in that child.

 

Dr. Hackell is a founding member of Pomona Pediatrics PC, a division of Children’s and Women’s Physicians of Westchester. He practices in the lower Hudson River Valley just north of New York City.

Advertisements

Fly the Contagious Skies

Written by Herschel Lessin MD

As a practicing pediatrician and co-lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ national vaccine policy statement, I was horrified when I saw the news that Delta Airlines had accepted an ad broadcast during their in-flight entertainment that was sponsored by the National Vaccine Information Center.

This notorious anti-vaccine group with the deliberately misleading name, paid for a three minute “public service announcement” that is anything but “public service”.

In this commercial, the group tries to hide its virulent anti-vaccine positions behind comments that there are better ways to prevent the flu than a flu vaccine. They grossly misrepresent the results of a recent study on the efficacy of influenza vaccine, making it sound almost worthless, which was clearly not the case nor the conclusion of the authors of the study.

I wonder if anyone asked them why you cannot do both?? That thought would, of course, never cross their minds because it contradicts their scientifically unsupportable and dangerous position that vaccines are bad.

The President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Robert Block, has written Delta a strongly worded letter, as have other reputable scientific and medical organizations. Block wrote: Displaying NVIC’s message on Delta flights is, “putting the lives of children at risk, leaving them unprotected from vaccine-preventable diseases.”

He asked Delta to remove it. (This is the same group that put a huge billboard opposing vaccines in Times Square, which was taken down after widespread outrage at its misleading and false statements.)

Air travel in winter, with its increased risk of confinement in a closed space with hundreds of people and their illnesses, using a recycled air supply, is hardly the place I would want to place my children and myself at risk.

Here is the note that I wrote to Delta Customer Service on their website. I encourage everyone who cares about the health and safety of children to do the same.

As a pediatrician and Platinum Delta member, I am utterly appalled by your company’s poor judgment in running an anti-vaccine ad by the National Vaccine Information Center. This group is part of the anti-vaccine fringe who ignore all scientific evidence and promote fear about the totally unsupportable and disproven alleged risks of vaccines. This group and its ilk are responsible for putting countless children at risk for death and damages from vaccine preventable diseases due to their persistent and unsupported opinions about the risks of vaccines. This ad should be removed immediately. You should be ashamed of yourselves for spreading the distortions and mistruths promoted by the zealots running this group.

If you would like to protest Delta Airlines decision to run these ads, take a moment to sign this online petition by clicking on the link below

http://www.change.org/petitions/tell-delta-to-stop-putting-their-passengers-health-at-risk

Dr. Lessin has been a practicing pediatrician in the Hudson Valley since 1982. He is a founding partner and serves as both Medical Director and Director of Clinical Research at the Children’s Medical Group

4

Back to School Illnesses… Please Don’t Spread the Lovebugs

Written by Melissa Arca, MD

First of all, realize it’s inevitable: Children will get sick. I have yet to meet a child in school who went the whole school year without coming down with something. That being said, there are measures we can take to lessen the chances of our children falling prey to some of these viruses.

First, I will outline 5 of the most common culprits causing illness in the preschool and school age child during fall and winter. Then I will give you some practical tips on containing these viral bugs.

Hand Foot Mouth Disease: This is most commonly caused by the coxsackie virus and peaks in the summer and early Fall. This virus affects mostly young children (children under 10). The symptoms consist of a fever, decreased appetite, and sore throat. Usually painful mouth sores develop on the tongue, inside of cheeks and back of throat. This may or may not be accompanied by the non-itchy skin rash on palms and soles of feet.

The Common Cold: Your child may be afflicted with this a few times a year. The most common culprit here is the rhinovirus though there are several different viral strains producing symptoms of the common cold. Hence, several colds can be caught during one season. The symptoms vary but most commonly include: stuffy nose, sore throat, cough, mild fever, and sneezing.

The Flu: Ahh… the dreaded flu. Influenza and its various strains cause the dreaded flu symptoms. As opposed to the common cold, the flu gives more pronounced and severe symptoms: high fever (usually over 100.4), sudden onset of symptoms, profound body aches, headache, and general malaise with decreased appetite. With the common cold, respiratory symptoms such as sneezing, congestion and cough are more prominent than in the flu. So far, the only preventive medical defense we have against this is the seasonal flu shot.

Strep Throat: Unlike the above conditions, this one is caused by a bacteria (Group A Strep.) and not a virus. So, this must be treated with antibiotics. So how do you tell the difference from a common sore throat (viral pharyngitis) and strep throat? Here are the key differences: strep throat involves a higher fever (usually above 101 F), red and swollen throat with possible pus formation, absence of cough, and swollen lymph nodes in neck. Strep throat may also be accompanied by abdominal pain, possible vomiting, and a body rash.

Gastroenteritis, aka the “stomach flu,” is caused by several different types of viruses, most notably rotavirus and adenovirus. The most prominent symptoms are vomiting and diarrhea. Some children may only have the vomiting, some only the diarrhea, and the unlucky ones will have both. This may be accompanied by fever and stomach ache. Having the so-called “stomach flu” does not mean you have the “flu” as in influenza.

I picked the above 5 conditions because they are by far the most common this time of year and they are highly contagious. There is just no way around it. Okay, so having thrown all that at you, what can you do to help minimize and contain these nasty viruses?

  1. Frequent hand washing is the number one way to help prevent the spread of these bugs. Encourage and teach your child to wash their hands several times throughout the day. Before eating, after using the potty, after playing outside, etc. Have them sing a song while washing to make sure they wash long enough (ABC song is a good one).
  2. Carry sanitizer. I always wipe my kids’ hands as soon as they get into the car from school. This time of year, it’s just a good habit. Wipe down shopping cart handles too.
  3. Encourage children to sneeze and cough into their arms or a tissue.
  4. Keep children home if they have a fever, are vomiting, or have significant diarrhea. Of special note: keep them home if they have eye drainage, this could signify a conjunctivitis and should be evaluated by a doctor.
  5. Teach them not to share drinking cups or utensils with their friends.
  6. By all means, sanitize the toys and personal items in your house after a bout with any of the above.
  7. Make sure your children get enough sleep, eat well balanced meals, and exercise regularly. All of these will help insure that their immune systems stay in tip top shape.

Treatment: Since the above, with the exception of strep throat, are caused by viruses, antibiotics will not help. Keep your child comfortable by treating their fever with a fever reducer. Give plenty of fluids and rest. With the stomach flu, keep your child’s diet bland and make sure they stay hydrated with small and frequent amounts of liquids.

Possible Complications: Secondary infections can set in following colds or the flu. Ear infections and pneumonia are common secondary infections. Watch for fever recurrence, chest pain, difficulty breathing, or worsening cough. Dehydration can set in following a bout of gastroenteritis. Stay on top of your child’s liquid intake. These conditions should be evaluated by your child’s pediatrician.

Do not hesitate to contact your child’s pediatrician whenever you’re concerned or have questions regarding your child’s health.

Good luck to all of you this fall and winter season. Unfortunately, these bugs will make their way into our households — just make sure your child gets plenty of rest, fluids, and love.

We’ve already battled a short bout of gastroenteritis and a nagging cold. How about you? Have your children been afflicted by any of these back to school bugs yet?

Dr. Arca is a pediatrician, mom of two, writer, and blogger who works part time in a community clinic while raising her two young children. She has become passionate about writing and speaking about motherhood, parenting, and children’s health. She is author of the blog, Confessions of a Dr.Mom and writes a weekly column in her local newspaper, The Sacramento Bee.