This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
As we head into allergy and flu season, families across Canada continue to experience high rates of childhood respiratory viruses amidst the flu season. What can you do to help?
In an interview with our staff, Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, pediatrician and Chairperson of Families Canada’s board, shares advice and tips for parents, caregivers, and service providers.
What symptoms should parents and caregivers look for if they think their children could have a respiratory virus and/or the flu?
Respiratory viruses can infect any age group and have multiple symptoms. The most common symptoms usually are runny nose, cough, and a bit of a fever. These symptoms are common in all of the respiratory viruses that are circulating. A small minority of children who have respiratory viruses can get into what I call respiratory difficulty.
These are the symptoms and the signs that parents need to look for:
- If a child is eating properly. If a child has so much difficulty breathing that they can’t eat or drink, particularly in younger children, that is a sign that the child has to go to the hospital.
- If a child has difficulty breathing. For example, breathing with their throat muscles, you see a little hole that becomes deeper when they’re breathing in, you can see the ribs moving in and out, or you can see their abdomen moving in and out. Those are signs of what we call respiratory distress. And those are signs that the child is struggling because the infection has overwhelmed their lungs and their air tubes or bronchioles.
- If the child has blue around the mouth. This is a telltale sign that it’s an emergency.
- Fever is another common symptom of these respiratory viruses. And fever is not dangerous. It’s really a sign of a virus.
What can parents and caregivers do if their children are sick with a respiratory virus and/or the flu?
Lukewarm baths, dressing the child lightly, and so on. Those are the things that we need to do. If a child less than three months of age has a fever, then that’s a sign that the child needs to be seen. And if a child older than three months has fever for more than three or four days and the fever doesn’t go away, then the child needs to be seen.
Having said that, even if a child has a fever, if the child looks well, is feeding properly, is well hydrated, and is not having respiratory difficulties then the child will get better in a couple of days on their own.
What can family support practitioners do to keep everyone safe?
A community approach to protecting young children and families is important. I would recommend the following for anyone who works with children:
- Frequent handwashing
- Frequent disinfection of all areas, because young children play all over
- Not going to work or school when you’re sick. That’s very important.
I’m a pediatrician and it’s my responsibility not only to protect myself and my family, but also to protect the children that I see at my work. I have that responsibility, as do people who work in family support centres, and daycares and so on. Doing these things to keep everyone safe is really important in settings where we are taking care of a very vulnerable population.
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