Cold and flu season: which viruses are the most dangerous?

During the school year, it’s pretty common to have a child come home with a cough or a runny nose.

But with so many viruses running rampant during the fall, it can be tough to know which ones will pass on their own and which ones require a trip to the doctor.

According to Dr. Frank Esper, an infectious disease expert at Cleveland Clinic Children’s, the most dangerous of the seasonal illnesses is the flu virus.

“Generally, the flu is the worst virus that we worry about,” he said. “That’s why we talk about getting your flu shot today -- it is flu vaccine season right now. Flu season will start at the end of November/early December, so, this the time to get your flu vaccine.” 

Esper said the flu virus is by far responsible for the most deaths within the virus season.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu was responsible for 186 pediatric deaths during the 2017-2018 school year.

Esper said the flu is especially dangerous because it can open the door for bacteria to come into the body and cause pneumonia, a dangerous lung infection that lands approximately one million people in the hospital each year.

He said the best way to protect yourself and your children is to get everyone vaccinated against the flu.

In addition to the flu, other dangerous and contagious viruses that should be checked out by a doctor include respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and croup. Both of these can cause infections in the breathing passages and lungs of small children.

“The fall is croup time,” Esper said. “When you hear that barky cough, that’s when you start saying, ‘Yeah, it’s probably the croup.’ Are you contagious? You’re darn right you’re contagious. Make sure that if you have that barky cough that you stay home until the fever is gone.” 

Esper said it’s pretty much expected that from the time kids go back to school, until the time they get out for summer break, they’re going to be exposed to many viruses. But anytime a child comes home from school with respiratory symptoms, the best thing to do is to call the pediatrician to see if they need to be brought in for an evaluation.