Schools in several parts of India are reporting several students missing classes due to sickness.
Doctors have confirmed that hospital OPDs are filled with sick kids following the recent dip in temperatures and sudden rains due to the cyclone.
However, there is no reason to worry, said the doctors.
“For the last few weeks, we have again seen a rise in cases of influenza and gastroenteritis,” confirmed Dr Yogesh Kumar Gupta, a paediatrics consultant at Fortis Hospital on Bannerghatta Road in Bengaluru.
Meanwhile, Shyamala G Rao, the coordinator of a private school located in South Bengaluru, said that at least 10 kids out of 35 in each class missed school due to sickness in the week gone by.
“We have informed parents not to send their wards to school if they fall sick. In a few of our classes, younger children are falling sick with viral fever and flu infections,” she said.
“On Monday, 12 December, more than 30 percent of students were absent from school for this reason,” explained Rao.
Doctors told South First that children, for a few weeks now, were coming to them with symptoms like high fever, cold, cough, and even persistent vomiting and loose stools.
“Some of them are also coming in with severe wheezing, and there are a few cases of pneumonia as well. They can be attributed to frequent fluctuations in weather, the dip in temperatures, rains, unhygienic food, and contaminated water,” explained Gupta.
Meanwhile, Dr Dilip RN, a paediatrician and physician from Mysuru, said that most patients coming to him are children within the age group of 7-12 years.
If one child in the family falls sick, then siblings tend to catch the infection, he said.
“In fact, parents are feeling drained. Though infections are not severe, continuous fever, cold, and respiratory problems do not allow children to sleep well. This can tire parents as well. Children are taking at least three to five days to completely recover from the infection,” he explained.
How long should children stay away from school?
Earlier this month, the Karnataka Health Department and even the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) Health Department issued an advisory to parents to not send kids to school if they were unwell.
BBMP Special Commissioner (Health) KV Thrilokchandra said, “If any kid is suffering from any respiratory infection, it is advised to not send them to school until they recover.”
He insisted that parents focus on taking them to the doctor and providing immediate treatment so that the symptoms don’t get severe.
“This will also help in stopping the spread of infections if it is a viral fever,” he explained.
Meanwhile, Gupta suggested that children could resume school once they were symptom-free and afebrile for more than 48 hours.
“During the acute symptomatic stage, they tend to shed more viral particles and hence can be infective to others,” he explained.
It is important to follow the doctor’s advice for this, he said.
Doctors in Hyderabad also claimed to have been seeing an increase in cough, fever, common cold, and flu cases over the past month.
“In my observation, 70-80 percent of children are coming in with upper and lower respiratory tract infections. Symptoms include cough, cold, and fever. Most of them are upper-respiratory-tract (URT) infections like sore throat, cold, and acute tonsilitis,” said Dr Vijay Kumar CH, a paediatrician from ESI Hospital, Balanagar, in Hyderabad.
He said the need for children to stay away from school is based mostly on the symptoms and the kind of infections the child is presenting with. Since most of them are URT infections, they subside in three to five days.
“More than rest, the problem is that URT and LRT infections are airborne infections and hence the infectivity is very high. If the child coughs or sneezes, droplets spread and cause infection in other kids. So, to avoid this kind of droplet spread, we have to keep them away from school for at least three to five days during the infectious or incubation period,” said Vijay.
In some cases of LRT infection, like pneumonia, the child would be very sick and might even need hospitalisation, he said.
They would be severely tired and need at least a week’s rest. Children with GI cases might need three days of rest. “Dehydrated children usually take three to five days to recover,” explained Vijay.
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Should all sick children take antibiotics?
Definitely no, said the doctors. They warned that self-medication — especially with antibiotics — was the most common practice parents tend to engage in, but it could prove dangerous.
“Most URT infections subside in three to four days. They [Children] will not need any antibiotics. Simple supportive treatments like paracetamol for high fever and antihistamines and cough syrups on prescription can be sufficient. For bronchitis and pneumonia, they may need hospitalisation or injections, but most of them are OPD-based treatments,” Vijay said.
He explained that antibiotics have become over-the-counter medication that has become overused.
“This leads to antibiotic abuse and this is dangerous not just for children but even for society. Even doctors have to judiciously prescribe them,” he said.
Some children with bacterial infections will show bloody stools, mucus stools, sticky stools, foul smell, vomiting along with fever, and even gripping the abdomen in pain. Lab reports will give clues on bacterial infections. Only then should doctors prescribe antibiotics.
Gupta concurred: “Remember: Most of the infections we see are viral infections, barring few instances where we straightaway diagnose acute bacterial infection. So, viral infections don’t need antibiotics.”
Home remedies for loose stool, vomiting
Though there is no specific home remedy for loose stool and vomiting, the doctors said that parents should ensure good hydration.
“ORS, Kanji, buttermilk, and tender-coconut water can be used as home-based replacement fluids. However, make sure to see your doctor if symptoms persist or worsen,” says Gupta.
Vijay noted that many parents stop feeding children when they feel that the kids are passing bowel or throwing up as soon as they eat. This, he said, could be dangerous.
“Even if the child vomits or passes loose stool, it is important to keep the child hydrated with liquids and give whatever the child can eat. Give any kind of electrolytes, like ORS (combination of water, one teaspoon salt, sugar), natural probiotics like curd, or even sabudana,” he said.
Junk food and oily food can cause vomiting, so it is better to avoid spicy food and eatables from outside in such situations, said the doctors.