Flu, RSV and COVID-19: When to See Your Pediatrician this Respiratory Season

Flu, RSV and COVID-19: When to See Your Pediatrician this Respiratory Season

2020 has been far from a normal year since the onset of the COVID‐19 pandemic, leaving many parents wondering what to expect as we enter the winter respiratory season.

We sat down with Dr. Jeffrey Smith a general pediatrician at Pediatric Consultants PC. He breaks down what to look for and when to seek care for your child in the coming months.


The flu is a disease caused by the influenza virus. The flu circulates every year between late fall and early spring. The best way to keep the flu away is to get a flu shot. Whatever your feelings have been about the flu shot in the past, with COVID‐19 going around, this is a good year to get a flu shot.

“Control what you can control,” says Dr. Smith, “and out of all the illnesses you can get this winter season, the flu is the most preventable, due in large part to the flu shot.”

Common symptoms of the flu include high fever and intense nasal congestion for a few days. If those symptoms arise, it is a good idea to make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician, where your child’s doctor can potentially test for the flu. Results are returned in 10 to 15 minutes.

Because the flu is a virus, supportive care (treating symptoms as they arise) is the mainstay of treatment. However, if given in the correct time frame, drugs such as Tamiflu and Xofluza (only recommended for those 12 and older) can help to reduce the length and severity of symptoms.


The flu is not the only common virus to keep an eye out for this season. Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a very common illness during the winter months. RSV is the most common respiratory virus in children under the age of three.

Runny nose, sneezing, and mild cough are early signs of an RSV infection. However, RSV is known for causing thick secretions and inflammation that can cause worse symptoms. These symptoms can often cause a deeper cough, and inflammation can migrate to the lower airway and cause difficult breathing after several days – a disease process called “bronchiolitis” (while any respiratory virus can cause bronchiolitis, RSV is particularly known for it). RSV tends to hit its worst stage or “peak” between days 4‐6, after which symptoms typically start to improve slowly. However, full recovery can take some time.

Call your pediatrician if your baby is under six months old and showing cold symptoms. Be sure to make an appointment with your pediatrician if your child is breathing faster than normal or you can visibly see their chest move up and down as they breathe.

Additionally, because of the large secretions and inflammation blocking the nose, younger children who are not as adept at breathing through their mouths tend to have trouble drinking. If your child can’t drink, dehydration can become a concern as well. A good measure of hydration is urine output. If your child isn’t using the bathroom as frequently or not producing AT LEAST 4‐6 wet diapers in 24 hours, you should make an appointment with their pediatrician to have them evaluated.


COVID‐19 is yet another (new) virus that parents should be on the lookout for this upcoming winter season. If you or your child is exposed to COVID‐19 please follow the CDC guidelines for quarantine and isolation, but if their symptoms become more concerning, please contact your child’s pediatrician or seek out medical care.

While we are still learning about this new virus that has taken over all of our lives, most early data suggests that less children are contracting severe cases of COVID‐19 than adults. However, children can still become sick, even to the point of hospitalization, with this illness. Among pediatric patients, infants under one year and children with underlying health conditions are still at higher risk of complications from COVID‐19, and all children should take the same precautions as adults if infected with COVID‐19.

COVID‐19 can manifest with various symptoms, ranging from having none at all to severe symptoms requiring hospitalization. Common symptoms seen among symptomatic individuals can include: fever, cough, shortness of breath, diarrhea, headache, sore throat and loss of taste and smell. If your child develops severe symptoms, including shortness of breath, altered mental status, dehydration, or if you have other concerns about their condition, please contact your child’s pediatrician.

Several pediatrician offices are now offering testing for COVID‐19. If you suspect that your child might be sick with COVID‐19, please call ahead to make an appointment with your pediatrician.

Tips for Safely Navigating this Season

  1. Get a flu shot.
  2. Wear a mask and social distance. (Children younger than two need not routinely wear a mask)
  3. Follow CDC guidelines for health and safety.

Call Your Pediatrician

  • If you can’t control a fever with over the counter medicine
  • If your child has profound difficulty breathing, signs of wheezing or retraction in the chest area
  • If your child has decreased urine output, has no thirst or is not drinking
  • If you notice anything out of the ordinary or have cause for concern

Want to learn more about General Pediatrics at Le Bonheur?

General Pediatrics

Want to find an appointment for your child?
Call 1-866-870-5570.

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