Maine CDC Press Release

December 12, 2018

Respiratory Illnesses in Children and When to Seek Medical Care

Maine CDC Advises Public on Respiratory Illnesses in Children and When to See a Doctor

AUGUSTA - The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) is advising the public to be aware of common respiratory illnesses in children and when to see a doctor. Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, and influenza (the flu) are two respiratory illnesses frequently reported in children during this time of year. Children sick with the flu and whooping cough commonly require medical care as a result of these illnesses.

"It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of influenza and pertussis and know when to see a doctor," said Dr. Siiri Bennett, Maine's State Epidemiologist. "These diseases are highly contagious and can spread quickly in schools and daycare facilities."

The flu causes a fever (greater than or equal to 100F or 37.8C) and a cough or sore throat. Children younger than five-years-old with the flu have a high chance of complications. This includes multi-organ failure and inflammation of the heart, brain, or muscle tissues. During last year's flu season, doctors reported 952 flu cases in Maine children under the age of five and 77 hospitalizations.

Whooping cough causes coughing fits or a cough that can last for several weeks. Coughing may lead to gagging or vomiting. Whooping cough can cause serious illness and even death, especially in babies. As of October 31, there were 332 cases of whooping cough in 2018, including 122 cases in children under the age of five in Maine. Contact a doctor if a child is vomiting or has trouble catching their breath after coughing.

Symptoms that require immediate medical attention, no matter the child's age, include:

  • Symptoms of dehydration, such as refusal to drink or breastfeed, few or no tears when crying, dry diapers, decreased urine output, and dry mouth and tongue
  • Difficulty or changes in breathing
  • A spike in fever (greater than or equal to 100F or 37.8C) after the original fever has gone away
  • A fever (greater than or equal to 100F or 37.8C) with a rash
  • A blue tinge to the skin, around the lips, or nail beds of the hands or feet
  • Inability to wake up the child
  • Refusal to be held or touched, in babies or toddlers

Maine residents can help reduce their risk of getting a respiratory illness. Vaccination is the best way to prevent the flu and whooping cough. High vaccination rates can reduce the spread of these illnesses. Frequent hand washing and covering a cough by coughing into a sleeve or tissue can help prevent the spread of illness. Individuals sick with the flu should stay home until 24 hours after the fever resolves without medication. Individuals sick with whooping cough should stay home until they have completed five days of antibiotics. As a general rule, it is important to stay away from people who are sick to avoid the spread of disease.

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If you have additional questions, call Maine CDC's 24-hour Disease Reporting Hotline at 1-800-821-5821.