It’s Just a Virus

Disclaimer: The following blog post is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or a qualified healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you read on this website.

We’ve all been there: Up all night with a feverish, fussy kid as you count the hours until you can call the doctor’s office and grab that precious appointment. Once you finally arrive at the pedi’s, exhausted and standing upright only because of sheer will and the vat of coffee you’ve had this morning, you are seen by a health provider only to hear those four horrid words: “It’s just a virus.”

You know what that means. The illness has to run its course, and no antibiotic will be prescribed to speed things along.

You leave frustrated, a copay down, and wondering why you left your house in the first place.

I get it. Honestly, I do. I’ve been the nurse helping to treat that miserable-feeling patient, and I’ve been the mom with the sick kiddo more times than I can count. Neither are fun places to be, because getting kids well as quickly as possible is the goal for both sides.

I’ll admit, as a mom, there have been times I’ve been relieved by diagnoses requiring my kids to be treated by an antibiotic. And I’ll admit that I’ve been tempted to roll my eyes at viral diagnoses that automatically dismiss the potential of one. But then I remind myself what I already know: if my child has a virus, I certainly don’t want him/her to take anything that kills bacteria.

Why? Because viruses and bacteria are definitely not the same organisms. They are two very different things, and what treats and wipes them out are two vastly different medications. 

We’ve grown up in a time where antibiotics have been touted as a cure-all and can get things rolling far faster, but over the past couple of decades, the over-prescription, patient noncompliance, and abuse of those medications have caused resistant strains of illnesses. Now, higher doses and longer courses are needed to treat even the most common illnesses such as strep throat, ear infections, and pneumonia.

As a health care practitioner, I know better than to grow frustrated when my child is sick with something that has to run its course, but it doesn’t make the journey to wellness any less stressful. As parents, we want to help our children get well as quickly as we can, but we also want them safe and healthy. Giving unnecessary medications can cause problems later down the line, even if it would give us peace of mind now.

So “it’s just a virus” may not be the worst thing to hear, even if it means a few hard days of waiting it out.

If your child is sick with either a virus or bacterial infection, always keep these things in mind:

  • Follow directions. If your health care provider prescribes medication, please take it as directed unless the child has an adverse reaction. If any allergic reactions occur, contact the health practitioner’s office immediately. 
  • Keep your child hydrated. Small sips of fluids every 5–10 minutes are better than large quantities of fluids every few hours. Kids who aren’t feeling well are prone to vomiting, which can quickly lead to dehydration. Offer a half a medicine cup (30 cc) of fluid every 15 minutes to keep an ill child hydrated. I suggest liquids like Pedialyte and Gatorade.
  • Be aware of signs of dehydration. Young children should pee at least once every 8–10 hours. Teens should pee at least once every 10–12 hours. The usual guideline is a few hours longer for each group, but using the aforementioned times is a good rule of thumb when actively monitoring a child’s hydration status, as it accounts for a bit of human error (parents may not know exactly when their child’s lack of urination began) and factors in travel times to either the doctor’s office or ER if hospital hydration is necessary.
  • Rely on OTC meds. Fever/discomfort can be treated with Motrin (Advil, Ibuprofen) or Tylenol (Acetaminophen). Some doctors will instruct you to alternate these medications, but check with your health care provider.
  • Don’t freak out about fevers. Recent studies show that fevers can be the body’s way of weakening the organism that’s causing the illness, so don’t focus on only treating the fever. Fevers are scary, I know, but look at the overall picture of what’s going on. Is the patient miserable, refusing fluids, and not wanting to get off the couch with a low-grade fever? Or is he/she up and playing, interactive, and pleasant with a higher fever? As a nurse, I’d be more concerned about the first kid, but I would watch both closely and give Tylenol or Motrin for either. (Make sure you give a few bites of food before taking Motrin.) A child with a fever is like a hot pot of water on the stove. They are losing water through their increased breathing and their rising temperature, so hydration is always essential.
  • Follow up. Follow up per health practitioner’s instructions. If symptoms become worse, call the office. What can start as a virus can lead to a secondary, bacterial infection. If in doubt, always follow up with your health care provider; and if you decide to go to urgent care, always bring your records from that visit to your next appointment with your regular doctor. It helps with consistency of care and gives your child the best and fastest chance possible on the road to recovery. 

Happy sick season, y’all! Stay well!

Patricia W. Fischer is romance author, journalist, and retired pediatric/adult critical care nurse who’s made her homes in Texas, New Mexico, Louisiana, and Missouri. After having a fantastic time at The University of Texas (hook ’em!), she decided actually attending class would help her reach her long-term goals faster. She buckled down and in eight years earned a Licensed Vocational Nurse certification, then an Associate’s in Nursing, and finally, a Bachelor’s of Science in Journalism. During that time, Patricia worked in multiple fields of nursing, including medical/surgical, recovery room, orthopedics, telemetry (ICU step down), and critical care before she settled into the unpredictability of the emergency room. For five years, she worked in a general ER before she ended up at Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, a Level 1 Pediatric Trauma Center. She retired from nursing in 2002 and started writing full-time. She has written for many publications, including iVillage, Hot Mom’s Club, Modern Mom, Dallas Child, American Journal of Nursing, The Writer’s Edge, Nursing Spectrum, and Chicken Soup for the Soul Series. For the past two years, she’s had a monthly book picks segment on San Antonio Living, a local morning show on WOAI. She’s a member of the San Antonio Romance Authors (SARA).