Your child wakes you up in the middle of the night with a fever; you worry that your child has an infection so you schedule an appointment to make sure. You are told that your child has a virus. Is that good or bad? Is it an infection or not?

There are two main causes of infection: Bacteria or viruses. Viruses are germs that are responsible for things like the cold, the flu, or bronchitis, as well as the newsworthy Zika virus. Measles, mumps, rubella, and chicken pox are also viruses.  Depending on the type of infection, we can plan for the type of care and treatment and on what to monitor for. Treatment for viruses include fever control, drinking plenty of water, rest and sometimes anti-viral medications for certain ones like the flu.

It is important to note that antibiotics are useless against viral infections. It would be like taking chocolate syrup for your pinkeye (or Tylenol for diarrhea). It might not help, and in fact it could make things worse. Viruses are spread by coming in contact with droplets through sneezing, coughing, runny nose, blood, vomiting, and diarrhea. This happens more frequently when people are close together, like at school, on an airplane, or taking care of someone who has a virus.

Depending on the virus, you may notice symptoms like sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, rash, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and being sleepier than usual. If you suspect your child has a virus, visit the pediatrician or pediatric urgent care. The doctor will advise you on the best course of action for your child’s illness. Rest and hydration will be important. If you child eats less or sleeps more than normal during the virus, that is okay; their appetite and energy will return to normal as they heal.

It is important to keep communication with your pediatrician as you are recovering from a virus as sometimes the infection can develop into something different. If you are worried, follow up with your doctor, the best types of visits are the ones where we tell you there is nothing else to do but continue the good care you are giving your child, and that his body is getting stronger fighting off this virus.

While you can’t guarantee a virus-free family, you can do your part to prevent the spread of viruses. Keep the whole family’s vaccinations up-to-date, and teach your children to cover their coughs and sneezes in their elbow and to wash hands frequently.