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Summertime infections are more common than you might think. When school is almost finished and your child is tired all of the time and doesn’t want to do anything you may be wondering if he or she is sick. Most likely it is just a case of “senioritis” or end-of-the-school-year blues, especially if he or she doesn’t have any other symptoms.
But there are many infections that are common in the late spring and summer and which can cause similar symptoms.
This is surprising to most parents who expect infections, such as the cold and flu, to occur in the winter.
Among the viruses that can commonly cause infections in the summer include enteroviruses (stomach bugs), parainfluenza (respiratory bugs) and poliovirus (polio). Although more common in winter, it is also possible to catch a rhinovirus — the common cold — in the summer. Adenovirus infections, which can cause a variety of symptoms, also are more common in the late winter and spring, but can occur in the early summer.
Mosquitoes, Ticks and More
Mosquito-borne infections are commonly caused by the arboviruses and can lead to West Nile encephalitis, St. Louis encephalitis and dengue fever. They are more common in the summer, specifically the late summer and early autumn.
Tick-borne illnesses include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and ehrlichiosis. Be sure to tell your pediatrician if your child gets sick following a tick bite.
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Another important cause of infections and illness in the summer months is food poisoning or food-borne illnesses. Because bacteria thrive in warm, moist environments, food poisoning is relatively frequent in the summer when there are an increased number of cookouts and picnics.
Lastly, Naegleria fowleri can cause amebic meningoencephalitis, a rapid and usually fatal infection.
It affects children who swim in warm, polluted and stagnant water, such as a lake or poorly chlorinated swimming pool.
The Viruses of Summer
Polio, an enterovirus, is the most notorious illness caused by a summertime virus. In the 1940s and ’50s, parents often refused to let their children go outside and play because of the fear of the poliovirus. Children who were infected would have a mild sore throat and fever, and then within a few days, could develop meningitis and/or paralysis. Thankfully, because of routine immunizations, polio is close to being irradiated in most parts of the world.
There are other enteroviruses which can cause illnesses, such as group A and B coxsackieviruses, echoviruses and enteroviruses. These viruses usually cause mild respiratory (cough and runny nose) and gastrointestinal (diarrhea and vomiting) illnesses, but they can also cause more severe infections, such as aseptic meningitis, encephalitis and myocarditis.
Other common childhood illnesses that are caused by nonpolio enteroviruses include Hand, Foot and Mouth disease, caused by the Coxsackie A16 and Enterovirus 71 viruses.
Children with Hand, Foot and Mouth disease can have blisters or ulcers in their mouth and on their hands and feet. Or, they can have ulcers just in their mouth, which is called herpangina.
Another common summertime virus is the parainfluenza virus 3. This virus can cause croup, bronchiolitis, pneumonia or just a cold. The characteristic barking cough of croup, which is often described as sounding like a seal, makes this virus easy to identify in the summertime. Overall, though, croup is more common in the winter.
Adenoviral infections are also more common in the winter, but they can also occur in the early summer. Symptoms can include fever, sore throat and other upper respiratory tract infections. Adenovirus can also cause pharyngoconjunctival fever, with a sore throat, fever and red eyes without discharge or matting.
It is also important to keep in mind that different parts of the world have different seasonal patterns for when infections occur. So if you are from the U.S. and you visit the Southern Hemisphere on a “summer vacation,”‘ then you may be exposed to people that are in the peak of their flu season. Or if you are around a lot of tourists, they can bring the infection to you.
Preventing Summertime Infections
Most of these infections are spread from fecal-oral and respiratory routes from other infected children. Simple hand washing and avoiding sharing food or drinks with other children, especially sick children, can help greatly reduce your child’s chances of getting sick too. Being extra careful at summer camp, where children are exposed to a lot of other people, can also help to reduce infections.
Mosquito and tick-borne infections can be avoided by preventing your child from getting bitten by ticks or mosquitoes. In high risk areas for Lyme disease, you should have your child wear long sleeve shirts and long pants with high socks and boots. You can also tuck your child’s pant legs into his socks and use a tick repellent. Also, check your child’s body for ticks at least once or twice a day, especially if you have been camping or playing in tick infested areas (grassy, brushy or wooden areas).
An insect repellent with Deet, citronella, or soybean oil can help to prevent mosquito bites. Wear light-colored clothing and avoid using any scented soaps or other products on your baby, since the fragrances can attract insects. Avoid areas with insect nests.
Food poisoning can be prevented by frequently washing your hands and cooking surfaces, not allowing foods and utensils to become cross contaminated, cooking foods to their proper temperature, and promptly refrigerating leftovers.
These simple precautions can help your child to have a safe, fun and infection free summer. That way he can save up his “sick days” for when school is back in session.
Arthropod-borne illness in the United States. Borgos W – Clin Fam Pract – 2004 Mar; 6(1); 199
Long: Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, 2nd ed.
By Vincent Iannelli, MD