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Germwatch: Pediatric Upper Respiratory Infections and Mumps

This month, UVA pediatricians are seeing more upper respiratory infections in kids.

As the seasons change and we spend more time inside, one Culpeper pediatrician is seeing more upper respiratory infections (URIs).

No, the cold weather doesn’t cause colds. So why is everyone getting sick? For one thing, we’re spending more time inside, sharing germs, explains Susan Werner, MD.

Also, the dry heat indoors tends to affect our ability to cough or blow out mucus. It dries out the cleansing mucus we make in our airways, which causes the cilia, the tiny sweeper hairs, to stop working.

Prevent Upper Respiratory Infections: Give Your Immune System Some Love

As we noted in the September Germwatch, frequent handwashing with soap and warm water can reduce your chances of getting a cold.


Humidifiers help, Werner says. They keep moisture in the air so the cilia in your respiratory tract can do their job. However, they can also promote dust mite growth, so avoid them if your child is allergic to mites.

Turn Off the Phone and Get Some Sleep

A lack of sleep decreases the immune system’s ability to respond to URI viruses. Every day, your kids need:

  • Preschoolers: 11-12 hours (including naps)
  • Elementary and middle school: 9-10 hours
  • High school — 7.5-9 hours

An early bedtime doesn’t always guarantee adequate sleep. Some of Werner’s patients admit that they’re on their phones for at least an hour after they get in bed. They may be losing even more sleep than that: The blue light of the LED screen decreases levels of melatonin, the hormone that controls sleep, so kids may find it harder to get to sleep even after they put the phone away.

Immune Boosters: Vitamin D, Omega 3s

Vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids boost the immune system, and one in four American kids is deficient in vitamin D during the winter, Werner says. For kids, she recommends 1,000 IU of Vitamin D per day. A glass of milk has about 300 IU.

For maximum absorption, drink full-fat milk or have milk with meals that also contain fats. Soy and almond milk are also usually fortified with vitamin D.

Kids can get omega 3s through oils, nuts and fish.

Treating Colds with Chicken Soup, Vitamin C, Honey and Vicks

You don’t need to go to the doctor for most URI symptoms. However, if your child isn’t getting over her cough and congestion in nine to 10 days, or if it’s getting worse, call your healthcare provider.

Otherwise, try these home-grown remedies.

Chicken Soup

Studies show both homemade and store-bought chicken soup actually does help reduce URI symptoms, Werner says.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C won’t prevent a URI. But if you take it for a week, it can boost the immune system and break up mucus, Werner says. Young kids should have 250 mg per day.

Vaporizing Rub

Werner notes that one study found rubbing Vicks VapoRub on kids’ chests and the soles of their feet helped control nighttime coughs. However, don’t use it or any other vaporizing rub on kids under age two.


Another study found honey helped control coughs. Werner recommends darker honey, but never give it to kids under one year old.

Concerned about URI symptoms?

Make an appointment with a primary care doctor or pediatrician.

Also in Central Virginia: Mumps

Recently, one UVA student tested positively for mumps, and UVA Student Health providers are waiting for test results in another four suspected cases. The number of U.S. mumps cases is significantly higher in 2016 and 2017 than in previous years, according to the CDC. However, Virginia is not one of the states with the most cases.

Mumps symptoms can be similar to flu. They include:

  • Muscle aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased appetite
  • Swollen salivary glands

Mumps can inflame the testicles or the ovaries and cause infertility.

The best way to prevent mumps is to get both recommended doses of the MMR or MMVR vaccine. Recently, a federal expert panel recommended that people who are at a higher risk for mumps — for example, if they live in an area with an outbreak — should get a third MMR dose.

The Germwatch series provides information on what’s going around in our community as well as popular reasons for primary care visits.

Tags: vaccines

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