A few days before you head to the beach, the mountains, or Disney World, your little one gets a runny nose, hacking cough and a few loose stools. Next day, just as you are packing the car, fever with a rash starts. Chances are your child has a “Dreaded Summer Cold”. Bad timing! Those symptoms should be in the short dreary days of winter not the happy summertime on vacation. Summer colds don’t get much attention, but the National Institute of Health estimates that 10 to 15 million illnesses are caused yearly by the summer cold virus.
Everybody’s grandmother knows summer colds are worse and last longer than winter colds. I had doubts about grandmother’s opinion until I looked into it several years ago and found that grandmother was correct. The symptoms of a summer cold are surprising. You expect runny noses with a cold, but in summer you may also get fever, nausea, diarrhea, achy body, and occasionally a rash. While winter colds last 7-10 days, summer colds can last weeks and often relapse.
The winter cold virus is likely to be rhinovirus, coronavirus or a picornavirus. The summer cold virus, that thrives in warm weather from June to October, is different, an enterovirus. All occur throughout the year and experts are not sure why one or the other predominates in their respective times of year.
All these viruses spread rapidly in large groups of people, such as airports, sporting events, schools, and daycares. All colds are caused by direct contact with infected nasal mucus, but the sneaky enterovirus can also be spread by the fecal-oral route from changing dirty diapers on the fold down changing table or door knobs at home or in a public bathroom.
Colds are often mistaken for allergies. Clear nasal mucus lasting 10 days or more with puffy eyelids and blood shot eyes is more likely to be a seasonal allergy. Green nasal mucus, hacking cough, diarrhea, fever and skin rash indicate a summer cold.
Prevention of the summer cold
1. Wash hands with soap and water. Hand sanitizers are not as effective against viruses, but are better than nothing.
2. Wipe off items used by others before using. Phones are known to carry a heavy load of germs as are TV remotes, especially in hotel rooms.
3. Encourage fluids to maintain hydration, provide plenty of fruits and veggies and maintain bedtime routines as closely as possible.
4. Keep little fingers out of their noses. (Good luck on that!)
5. Most obviously, stay away from sick people. If your child is in daycare or summer camps, just pray and hope for the best.
What can you do for a summer cold?
The same things you can do for a cold in the winter–drink fluids, rest, give Tylenol or Advil, and gargle with warm salt water. Saline nose drops and suction may help as can Grandmother’s chicken soup. For mild symptoms in a child over 2 years old, cold medicines can be used, but realize they only help with symptoms, and won’t cure a cold. If the cough gets worse and is keeping you or your child up at night or the fever lasts more than 2-3 days, see a doctor. Exercise will not help “sweat it out”. In fact, it can make a summer cold worse.
Do not go to the pediatrician to get an antibiotic. Antibiotics will not defeat a cold virus in winter nor summer and can cause increased antibiotic resistant in germs!