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Local doctor explains when you should seek care for a child with a viral illness

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A child with the flu rests under a blanket.

Dr. Jamie Jones said sometimes it's best just to let an illness run its course.

Flu cases have been on the decline in Greene County in the last two weeks, but, according to public health officials, numbers are still high. As of December 31, 6,105 flu cases had been reported for the 2022-2023 season, said Springfield-Greene County Health Department spokesman Aaron Schekorra. And there were 700 cases reported last week.

Other viral respiratory illnesses, including RSV and COVID-19, continue to spread in the Ozarks as well – and all are impacting both adults and children.

When to let an illness run its course

While a parent’s first instinct is to take their child to a doctor, sometimes the best thing to do is to let an illness run its course.

Dr. Jamie Jones, medical director of the urgent care system at CoxHealth, said you should seek medical care if your child is having difficulty breathing or if they’re unable to keep food and fluids down.

“If your kid’s eating and drinking and staying hydrated and they’re not in respiratory distress but they’re running a fever and coughing with runny nose, they either have RSV, flu or COVID," he said. "There are no treatments unless they’re a high risk population group. Keep them at home and keep them hydrated.”

Antiviral drugs

There are antiviral drugs available such as Tamiflu, but Jones said those should be reserved for people at high risk of severe illness including kids under age two, adults 65 and older and those with underlying health conditions such as asthma and COPD.

And he said the drug typically shortens the length of the flu by only one day, and it can cause side effects.

“Diarrhea, nausea and vomiting and even nightmares in kids are relatively common. Not every kid gets it," he said. "But you have to weigh the benefit – ‘I’m going to give it to my kid. They may have nausea and diarrhea and vomiting and they’re only going to get better one day sooner. Do I really want to give them this medication?’”

He said there’s currently a shortage of Tamiflu, so doctors are reserving the drug for those who truly need it.

Caring for a sick child

There are things parents can do to keep their kids comfortable while a viral illness runs its course. While Dr. Jones said fevers are a natural part of illness and don’t have to be treated, parents can give Ibuprofen such as Motrin to help their child rest and to help them stay hydrated. Fevers can lead to dehydration if a person isn't taking in enough liquids.

Tylenol and Motrin can be taken together, he said, since one is cleared through the kidneys and the other through the liver. Check the bottle for dosage instructions.

He recommends using humidifiers and steam from showers to help ease symptoms. Honey can help if a very young child has a cough. Low doses of a cough syrup containing an antihistamine, such as Delsym, can be given to kids who are at least six-years-old. And he urges people to get a flu vaccine, which can lessen the severity of illness.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.