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Viral Syndrome in Children

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

What is viral syndrome?

Viral syndrome is a term used for symptoms of an infection caused by a virus. Viruses are spread easily from person to person through the air and on shared items.

What are the signs and symptoms of viral syndrome?

Signs and symptoms may start slowly or suddenly and last hours to days. They can be mild to severe and can change over days or hours. Your child may have any of the following:

  • Fever and chills
  • A runny or stuffy nose
  • Cough, sore throat, or hoarseness
  • Headache, or pain and pressure around the eyes
  • Muscle aches and joint pain
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Abdominal pain, cramps, and diarrhea
  • Nausea, vomiting, or loss of appetite

How is viral syndrome diagnosed and treated?

Your child's healthcare provider will ask about your child's symptoms and examine him or her. Antibiotics are not given for a viral infection. Your child's healthcare provider may recommend the following:

  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to give your child and how often to give it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines your child uses to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your child's doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If your child takes blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for him or her. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children under 6 months of age without direction from your child's healthcare provider.

How can I care for my child?

  • Have your child rest. Rest may help your child feel better faster.
  • Use a cool-mist humidifier to help your child breathe easier if he or she has nasal or chest congestion.
  • Give saline nose drops to your baby if he or she has nasal congestion. Place a few saline drops into each nostril. Gently insert a suction bulb to remove the mucus.
    Proper Use of Bulb Syringe
  • Give your child plenty of liquids to prevent dehydration. Examples include water, ice pops, flavored gelatin, and broth. Ask how much liquid your child should drink each day and which liquids are best for him or her. You may need to give your child an oral electrolyte solution if he or she is vomiting or has diarrhea. Do not give your child liquids that contain caffeine. Caffeine can make dehydration worse.
  • Check your child's temperature as directed. This will help you monitor your child's condition. Ask your child's healthcare provider how often to check his or her temperature.
    How to Take a Temperature in Children

What can I do to prevent the spread of germs?


  • Keep your child away from other people while he or she is sick. This is especially important during the first 3 to 5 days of illness. The virus is most contagious during this time.
  • Have your child wash his or her hands often. He or she should wash after using the bathroom and before preparing or eating food. Have your child use soap and water. Show him or her how to rub soapy hands together, lacing the fingers. Wash the front and back of the hands, and in between the fingers. The fingers of one hand can scrub under the fingernails of the other hand. Teach your child to wash for at least 20 seconds. Use a timer, or sing a song that is at least 20 seconds. An example is the happy birthday song 2 times. Have your child rinse with warm, running water for several seconds. Then dry with a clean towel or paper towel. Your older child can use germ-killing gel if soap and water are not available.
    Handwashing
  • Remind your child to cover a sneeze or cough. Show your child how to use a tissue to cover his or her mouth and nose. Have your child throw the tissue away in a trash can right away. Then your child should wash his or her hands well or use a hand sanitizer. Show your child how to use the bend of his or her arm if a tissue is not available.
  • Tell your child not to share items. Examples include toys, drinks, and food.
  • Ask about vaccines your child needs. Vaccines help prevent some infections that cause disease. Have your child get a yearly flu vaccine as soon as recommended, usually in September or October. Your child's healthcare provider can tell you other vaccines your child should get, and when to get them.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) for any of the following:

  • Your child has a seizure.
  • Your child has trouble breathing or is breathing very fast.
  • Your child's lips, tongue, or nails are blue.
  • Your child is leaning forward and drooling.
  • Your child cannot be woken.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child complains of a stiff neck and a bad headache.
  • Your child has a dry mouth, cracked lips, cries without tears, or is dizzy.
  • Your child's soft spot on his or her head is sunken in or bulging out.
  • Your child coughs up blood or thick yellow or green mucus.
  • Your child is very weak or confused.
  • Your child stops urinating or urinates a lot less than usual.
  • Your child has severe abdominal pain or his or her abdomen is larger than normal.

When should I call my child's doctor?

  • Your child has a fever for more than 3 days.
  • Your child's symptoms do not get better with treatment.
  • Your child's appetite is poor or your baby has poor feeding.
  • Your child has a rash, ear pain, or a sore throat.
  • Your child has pain when he or she urinates.
  • Your child is irritable and fussy, and you cannot calm him or her down.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.