Several illnesses have been affecting the pediatric population, including children from birth to adolescence. These illnesses vary, so it's essential for parents and caregivers to stay informed.  Connecticut Children's Andrew Carlson, MD, Medical Director of Primary Care, discusses current illnesses impacting children of all ages, their symptoms, prevention, treatment options, and up-to-date statistics.

Connecticut now reports all emergency room visits for respiratory tract infections, including COVID-19, flu, and RSV. Data is searchable by county. You can also find specific information about your state and county on the CDC’s website.

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1. Bronchiolitis and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV):

Bronchiolitis cases, often caused by RSV, are common in children under 2 years old.  Symptoms start with a runny nose, fever, and cough, potentially leading to wheezing and labored breathing. Saline and nasal aspiration can help. Contact us for symptoms like rapid breathing or feeding difficulties. Learn about preventing RSV disease with treatments like Beyfortus (nirsevimab), a monoclonal antibody for RSV prevention, or other newer therapies.

RSV is a common respiratory virus that primarily affects infants and young children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), RSV leads to approximately 57,000 hospitalizations among children under the age of 5 in the United States each year. Symptoms often include coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. While RSV vaccines are being developed, prevention relies on good hand hygiene, avoiding close contact with sick individuals, and following CDC guidelines.

2. Vomiting and Diarrhea

We are seeing viral gastroenteritis, causing vomiting and diarrhea, often termed "stomach flu." This typically lasts 1-2 days, with diarrhea persisting longer. Prevent dehydration with small amounts of watered-down Gatorade (ONLY for children older than 6 months) or Pedialyte (all children). For severe cases, contact our office. Use soap and water for handwashing, as sanitizers are less effective against these viruses.

3. Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD)

HFMD is a viral illness caused by several enteroviruses, most commonly Coxsackievirus. It primarily affects children under 5 years old. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), HFMD outbreaks occur globally, with millions of cases reported annually. Symptoms include fever, sore throat, and painful sores on the hands, feet, and inside the mouth. Prevention involves maintaining good hygiene practices and avoiding close contact with infected individuals.

4. Pink Eye

We are currently observing conjunctivitis (pink eye) cases in children and adolescents. This condition may be viral or bacterial. Viral pink eye, often presenting as red, watery eyes with common cold symptoms, typically resolves with the viral cold. COVID can also cause it. Bacterial pink eye often has red eyes with yellow or green discharge, and the eyes may be matted shut after sleep. This requires antibiotic eye drops for treatment. Good handwashing is crucial as both types are highly contagious.

5. Strep Throat

There are increasing cases of strep throat, an illness caused by Group A strep bacteria. Symptoms include fever, sore throat, headache, or stomachache, without congestion or cough. Not all children have these symptoms all of the time. Antibiotics are effective only for bacterial infections. If the rapid test (a throat swab in the doctor's office) is negative, a second swab is usually sent for culture to a lab which can take a couple of days for results.

6. Influenza (Flu)

Influenza remains a significant concern for pediatric health. The CDC predicts that during the 2023-2024 flu season, approximately 4,500-13,000 people in the United States will die from influenza-related causes. According to the CDC, the flu vaccine is recommended for all children aged 6 months and older and offers the best protection against the virus.

>Related: 6 Things to Know if Your Child Has the Flu

7. COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact children worldwide. As of 2024, millions of pediatric cases have been reported globally. While most children experience mild or asymptomatic cases, severe illness can occur. Vaccination for eligible children and adults in the household, wearing masks in high-risk settings, and maintaining physical distancing are important preventive measures. Regular updates from health authorities like the CDC and WHO are essential for staying informed about the evolving situation. 

8. Asthma

Asthma remains one of the most common chronic conditions affecting children. It's estimated that over 6 million children in the United States have asthma, according to the CDC. Respiratory infections, such as colds or flu, can trigger asthma exacerbations. Proper management of asthma with medications and avoiding triggers, such as allergens and tobacco smoke, is essential to keep symptoms under control. 


9. Mental Health Concerns

The stresses of the pandemic, remote learning, and social isolation have contributed to a rise in anxiety and depression among children. According to a study published in 2023, the pandemic's mental health impact on children has been substantial. Open communication with children, seeking professional help when needed, and providing a supportive environment are essential for addressing mental health concerns.

Being aware of current health concerns in the pediatric community is vital for parents and caregivers. Staying informed about these illnesses, their symptoms, prevention strategies, and available treatments can help protect children's health and well-being. Regular check-ups with a pediatrician, vaccination, and following public health guidelines are crucial to keeping children safe and healthy.

As always, consult a healthcare professional for specific guidance and recommendations for your child's health.

>Related: Mental Health Resources for Families