Rhinovirus seems to be the virus de jour in the last few weeks. In medicine, we often don’t go to the effort to do specific viral testing on kids who appear to have “just a cold.” The test is painful (a swab up the nose), is expensive (hundreds of dollars), and takes time and effort. If there was a cure, it would probably be worth doing more often. However, there are still plenty of reasons to test (e.g., a child who isn’t getting better, a child with an underlying immune problem, a newborn with fever). In the last few weeks, most of the kids we have tested for one reason or another have been positive for rhinovirus. So it is definitely going around.
What is rhinovirus and do I need to stress about it?
Rhinovirus is the most common viral infection in humans. It is the predominant cause of the “common cold,” although there are other viruses that cause colds. It typically infects the upper respiratory system. Random trivia: “rhino” comes from the Greek word meaning nose, so I always think of it as the bug that causes all your crummy runny/stuffy nose symptoms. Rhinovirus is the most common in the fall and spring.
Rhinovirus Signs and Symptoms
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Sore throat
- Decreased appetite
- Muscle and body aches (can happen, but are atypical).
Everyone always wants to know where they got a bug (secretly we want to shake our fist and curse the person who possibly gave us the bug). Knowing the incubation period (the time it takes from exposure to showing signs of illness) will help in your detective work. The typical incubation period is 2 days. There have been reports of as short as 20 hours and as long as 4 days, but usually 2 days. The bug is passed via respiratory droplets (people coughing/sneezing around you) and from direct contact or touching (e.g., an infected child wipes his/her nose with his hand, touches a toy, then your child plays with the infected toy and later touches his/her own face).
In case you haven’t heard, there is no cure for the common cold. I’m working on it, but failing miserably. For now, treatment is all symptomatic. (See my article DECODING COUGH AND COLD MEDICATIONS for specifics.) As a quick reminder, rhinovirus is a virus and an antibiotic won’t help (since antibiotics only treat bacteria). So unless there is a complication (e.g., pneumonia, an ear infection), your doctor shouldn’t prescribe an antibiotic. In general:
- Treat fever, sore throat, and/or body aches with Tylenol (if over 2 months) or Motrin (if over 6 months)
- Run a humidifier
- Keep the nose as clear as possible
- Try OTC meds (depending on age of child and symptoms)
- Encourage fluids
- Let time pass
Colds tend to go away on their own, so be patient. Rhinovirus typically lasts 7-10 days. Complications can happen (e.g., pneumonia, ear infections), but are uncommon. Complications tend to happen in children who are compromised in some way (e.g., have weakened immune systems, asthma). FYI, there is not a vaccine to prevent rhinovirus.
- Wash your hands often
- Don’t touch your face (the virus enters through the mouth, nose, and eyes)
- Steer clear of sick people (if one of your children is sick, try to keep them away from the others as much as possible)
- Disinfect infected surfaces
- Improve your immune function (eat healthy, exercise, and sleep well)
Call your doctor if (because I’m worried about developing complications)
- Your sick child is under 2 months old (just about any bug under 2 months should be seen by a doc)
- The fever goes beyond 5 days or reoccurs (e.g., has been gone for 3 days and starts again)
- Any one of the symptoms is getting significantly worse when it should be getting better (e.g., after a week of coughing it should be gradually improving not getting worse)
- Your child is disproportionately symptomatic or miserable (e.g., a child shouldn’t cry inconsolably for hours with the common cold)
- Your child is having trouble breathing
Rhinovirus isn’t fun, but also isn’t the worst virus out there. If you or your child falls victim, take heart. It too shall pass.