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Childhood infections: When to worry

Doctors for USA WEEKEND

When a child comes down with a cold, there isn’t much you can do: Antibiotics don’t work on viral infections, and many over-the-counter relievers either have side effects or are not recommended for children. Some common childhood infections, however, require immediate treatment and care. These three, if left untreated, can lead to serious or even life-threatening conditions:

Strep throat. That sore, scratchy feeling your kid complains of when he swallows is most often caused by a virus, and passes on its own in roughly a week. Only a small number of sore throats are strep, a bacterial infection accompanied by symptoms such as difficulty swallowing and swollen tonsils. But even without those signs, see your pediatrician if your little one has a sore throat that persists, or if your child has difficulty breathing or extreme trouble swallowing.

Left untreated, the strep bacteria may spread, causing infection in other parts of the body, such as the sinuses, skin or even blood. It may also lead to kidney inflammation or rheumatic fever, a serious illness that can affect the joints, nervous system and heart. Once your child is diagnosed, your pediatrician will prescribe antibiotics; finish the full course of treatment (even if he starts to feel better) to avoid complications.

Whooping cough. The medical name for this highly contagious respiratory tract infection is pertussis, and according to recent government estimates, the number of cases in the U.S. may hit a record high this year. It primarily affects children who are too young to have completed the full course of vaccinations. It acts like the common cold for a week or two but then worsens, and your child may start to make that telltale “whoop” sound after a coughing fit. Prolonged and severe coughing may also lead to vomiting, bluish coloring around the mouth, and extreme fatigue.

The infection can lead to severe complications in infants, such as breathing problems, pneumonia and seizures (it can be life-threatening for babies under 6 months old). Whooping cough is treated with antibiotics, usually for two weeks. The medicine helps stop the spread of infection, but it can’t prevent or treat the cough itself. Cough medicines don’t work either, so your pediatrician will likely recommend home remedies to manage the cough, such as drinking plenty of fluids or vaporizing. Infants are often treated in hospitals because of their increased risks.

Urinary tract infections. You may not readily associate this one with kids, but UTIs actually are common in young children. About 3% of girls and 1% of boys will have such an infection by age 11.

UTIs can infect or damage the kidneys. Standard treatment includes antibiotics. Don’t stop meds early: UTIs can return if not fully treated. If your child has a fever, is vomiting or having difficulty keeping fluids down, she may need hospital care.

The Doctors is an Emmy-winning daytime TV show with pediatrician Jim Sears, OB-GYN Lisa Masterson, ER physician Travis Stork, plastic surgeon Andrew Ordon, health and wellness expert Jillian Michaels and psychologist Wendy Walsh. Check www.thedoctorstv.com for local listings.

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