Common Fall and Winter Illnesses To Be Aware Of

As we get into the fall and winter months, this time of year comes with cold weather, holidays, and of course-sickness. It is the time of year for coughing, sneezing, congestion and a variety of common illnesses that impact children. Below are a few for all parents to be aware of:

InfluenzaMom taking care of her sick kid.

Commonly known as the flu, this viral illness is mostly seasonal and tends to peak every fall/winter, usually lasting into early spring. This very contagious virus comes on quickly-usually with high fever, cough, body aches, congestion, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting.

The best way to protect yourself and your children is to get the flu vaccine in the fall. All children 6 months and older are eligible for the flu vaccine. Hand washing is also very important for prevention. High risk children, particularly those aged 2 years or younger or with other medical conditions like asthma, may qualify for treatment with Tamiflu (an antiviral) that can help lessen the length and severity of symptoms. This treatment is most effective if started within 48 hours of onset of flu symptoms.

The Common Cold

The common cold is also a viral illness. It can be caused by a variety of viral causes (one example is rhinovirus). This illness typically has less serious symptoms compared to influenza. Although anyone can get a cold throughout the year, they occur more frequently in winter due to children being indoors and in closer proximity to each other.

Colds usually present with a lower-grade fever, runny nose, coughing, congestion, and a sore throat. Treatment is generally supportive with plenty of fluids, rest and fever management. Children should be seen if fever is lasting longer than 72 hours, you have breathing concerns, they are not having good urine output, or symptoms are not improving by 2-3 weeks.

Viral Gastroenteritis

Often known as a stomach “bug,” this is a virus that infects the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It is most commonly caused by norovirus and is not directly related to the influenza virus. It is very contagious, so encourage your children to wash their hands frequently if it is circulating.

Vomiting, watery diarrhea, pain in the abdomen, headache, fatigue, and a mild fever are all symptoms of an intestinal virus. Some symptoms can last as long as 1-2 weeks, but are usually improving within a few days of onset. It is important to monitor that your child does not get dehydrated, and is able to tolerate fluid intake. Can encourage water, Pedialyte or other clear fluids.

Strep Throat

Strep throat is caused by a bacterial infection rather than virus-Group A Strep. This illness can cause a severe sore throat, painful swallowing, head and stomach aches, and fever. Sometimes a rash can develop as well. Classically there is not significant cough or congestion with strep.

Call your pediatrician if you suspect strep throat to schedule an appointment for testing, and if positive-for a course of antibiotics. There can be complications if strep is not treated promptly.


Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a viral infection as well. For some children it can present as a common cold. For young infants and children, it can settle in the lungs and airways which can then present as bronchiolitis (inflammation of lower airways).

Symptoms may look like a cold at first but can become worse often 3-5 days after the onset. Symptoms include cough, rapid breathing, increased work of breathing/retractions, wheezing from upper airway congestion, a runny nose, and fever.

Use a humidifier to help keep the air moist, a bulb syringe and saline drops to reduce nasal fluids, steam showers, and give your child plenty of fluids. Call the office if any persistent breathing concerns.

Preventing Fall and Winter Illnesses

It is important to keep your children home if they are having sick symptoms. A few things to remember:

  • Be sure they get enough rest.
  • Frequent handwashing is always recommended.
  • Be sure they are getting plenty of fluids and healthy foods.
  • Everyone in the family should get their flu shot.

Contact Pediatrics 5280 if your child has a persistent high fever, any breathing concerns, not having good urine output or other concerning symptoms.