Ask the Pediatrician: Common Winter Illnesses


The holidays are here, which means time for family, friends, and unfortunately, cold and flu season. As a mom, I know how unpleasant winter time ailments can be, both for the child and the mom. Here are a couple common questions I get from moms all the time:

 “How long is my child contagious?” and “How can I prevent them from getting sick?”

The answer isn’t always clear cut, but below are a few guidelines as to when you may need to postpone your holiday play date.  Your child can instead focus on sharing toys and not germs.

The Flu

feverInfluenza is a common nuisance this time of year. If your child is diagnosed with the flu, he can easily spread it to others. Symptoms usually develop 1-4 days after exposure to the influenza virus. Your child can be contagious 1 day before symptoms start and up to 5-7 days after they become sick. The flu can last for 3-7, days but the severity of the illness can vary. The best way to prevent the spread of influenza is to vaccinate your children, wash your hands well, and teach proper coughing/sneezing techniques to the young ones. (Remember, just because you receive the flu vaccine, it doesn’t mean you won’t contract the flu.) If your child has the flu, avoid play dates until he or she is fever free for at least 24-48 hours and is feeling better for at least the same time period.

The Stomach Bug

The other illness that all mothers dread is a stomach virus. The stomach virus, also known as viral gastroenteritis, can be caused by several different viruses. This type of illness is spread by direct contact, which means washing hands well will prevent its spread. Most importantly, proper hand hygiene is needed after handling the countless germ-filled, dirty diapers. The period of contagiousness can last up to 2 weeks in some viral gastroenteritis illnesses. As long as your child is fever free, not vomiting, and the diapers aren’t too messy, your child should be fine to play with others when proper hand washing is practiced.


momdoc1Lastly, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) season is in full swing this time of year. It is most common in fall, winter and early spring. An infection with RSV can range from a mild cold to involvement of the lungs requiring hospitalization. Younger children, especially premature infants, tend to have the most trouble with RSV. Those infected with RSV are contagious for 3-8 days and symptoms usually fully resolve within 1-2 weeks.  However, those who have a weakened immune system can remain contagious for up to 4 weeks. RSV is easily spread through contact (germs on toys, door knobs, etc.) and through airborne virus particles from coughing/sneezing. If your little one has RSV, it is probably wise to avoid get-togethers with other children, especially infants, until they are back to themselves without fever and with symptoms improving.

The above are just a few of the common illnesses this time of year. Overall, a good rule of thumb is if your concerned about your child’s health, call your pediatrician. All kids will have colds this time of year, and if we waited for everyone to be completely germ free, play dates wouldn’t happen very often. Let kids be kids but keep them well when possible. After all, that’s our job as moms.

Happy Holidays,

Dr. Christina Holmes

Holmes_ChristinaDr. Holmes was born in Baton Rouge. She earned her MD from the LSU Health Sciences Center in Shreveport in 2011 and completed her Pediatric residency in 2014 through Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge. After being named Most Outstanding Resident for the 2012-13 term and Primary Care Chief Resident in the 2013-14 term, she joined The Baton Rouge Clinic in 2014. She is a member of the American Academy of Physicians. She’s also a mom. You can contact her at [email protected] or call 225-769-4044

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by The Baton Rouge Clinic, the premier multi-specialty clinic in the region – bringing an excellent level of care to more than 250,000 patients throughout Baton Rouge and the surrounding areas. Learn more on their website and follow them on Facebook or Twitter.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here