Virus or bacteria: What's making your kids sick?

Ellen Leyva Image
Monday, November 25, 2019
Virus or bacteria: What's making your kids sick?
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It can be really tough for parents to tell what's making their child ill. And both viral and bacterial infections can cause similar symptoms. Here's some advice from pediatricians on what signs parents should watch for when their child gets sick.

What's causing your child to sneeze or cough? Whether it's a sore throat, ear ache or stomach pain, it's likely caused by a virus or bacteria.

"There is a big difference though, between the two. One, for the most part, those viruses go away on their own, your immune system is more than enough to take them out. The bacteria, a lot of times, we have antibiotics that are there and bacterial infections can be more severe, " said Dr. Frank Esper with Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospital.

Pediatricians say a majority of the time, a random virus is to blame for your child's cough, sore throat or mild fever.

Viral infections are also frequently accompanied by intense body aches. But when a fever gets especially high, that often means it's more likely to be a bacterial infection.

Many times, doctors will try to get "ahead" of a bacterial infection by treating it with antibiotics right away before it has the chance to become severe.

For a viral infection, Dr. Esper says the best thing to do is often just let the illness run it's course.

There are things parents can do to help make their child more comfortable, but if it's a viral infection, antibiotics won't help.

While it's frustrating for parents to hear that, overusing antibiotics when a child doesn't have a bacterial infection can cause problems.

It can also make the bacteria they're meant to treat more resistant.

Dr. Asper explained, "Eventually, it all gets back to your gut. Your gut is full of bacteria - but, antibiotics do not know friend from foe. It'll kill the bad bacteria that's causing a sinus infection, but it will also kill the good bacteria that's in your gut that's there to help you digest."

Doctors point out that antibiotics are a "seek and destroy" medication and they can destroy "good" gut bacteria too, causing stomach upset.

Whether the infection turns out to be caused by a bacteria or virus, parents should watch for signs like dehydration, faster breathing and significantly less activity or responsiveness.

Call your pediatrician's office if any of those signs are present.

And if you have a baby under 3 months old - experts say they should always been seen by a doctor if they develop a high fever.