Viral Infections in Children: Care Instructions

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Overview

Viruses cause many illnesses in children, from colds and stomach infections to mumps. Sometimes children have general symptoms—such as not feeling like eating or just not feeling well—that do not fit with a specific illness.

If your child has a rash, your doctor may be able to tell clearly if your child has an illness such as measles. Sometimes a child may have what is called a nonspecific viral illness that is not as easy to name. A number of viruses can cause this mild illness. Antibiotics do not work for a viral illness.

Your child will probably feel better in a few days. If not, call your child's doctor.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Have your child rest.
  • Give your child acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for fever, pain, or fussiness. Read and follow all instructions on the label. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • Be careful when giving your child over-the-counter cold or flu medicines and Tylenol at the same time. Many of these medicines contain acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Read the labels to make sure that you are not giving your child more than the recommended dose. Too much Tylenol can be harmful.
  • Be careful with cough and cold medicines. Don't give them to children younger than 6, because they don't work for children that age and can even be harmful. For children 6 and older, always follow all the instructions carefully. Make sure you know how much medicine to give and how long to use it. And use the dosing device if one is included.
  • Give your child lots of fluids. This is very important if your child is vomiting or has diarrhea. Give your child sips of water or drinks such as Pedialyte or Infalyte. These drinks contain a mix of salt, sugar, and minerals. You can buy them at drugstores or grocery stores. Give these drinks as long as your child is throwing up or has diarrhea. Do not use them as the only source of liquids or food for more than 12 to 24 hours.
  • Keep your child home from school, day care, or other public places while your child has a fever.
  • Use cold, wet cloths on a rash to reduce itching.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child has severe trouble breathing.
  • Your child passes out (loses consciousness).
  • Your child has a seizure.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child seems to be getting much sicker.
  • Your child has a new or higher fever.
  • Your child has a severe headache.
  • Your child has a stiff neck.
  • Your child has blood in their stools.
  • Your child has new belly pain, or their pain gets worse.
  • Your child has a new rash.
  • Your child is confused or disoriented.
  • Your child has trouble thinking or concentrating.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child starts to get better and then gets worse.
  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.