no wonder i have been sick so long. there are a whole bunch of different viruses out there - the webmaster


Children hit hard by viruses in Valley

How to keep healthy

Respiratory viruses are making children and adults sick. You can avoid the nasty bugs and spreading them to others by:

Washing your hands frequently with hot water and soap.

Covering your cough and avoiding the coughs of others.

Disinfecting hard services, such as telephones, with alcohol wipes.

Getting a flu vaccine every year.

Getting pneumonia shot as recommended for your age group.

Drinking plenty of fluids.

Getting plenty of sleep.

Not sharing utensils or beverages with family members and friends.

Taking over-the-counter medicine to alleviate symptoms.

Kerry Fehr-Snyder
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 28, 2003 12:00 AM

Schools, day care centers and doctors report that an onslaught of viral illnesses is taking a toll on Valley children.

"It's a viral nightmare out there still," said Dr. Duane Wooten, a pediatrician with offices in Phoenix and Ahwatukee.

As sure as it'll be hotter than a habanero in Phoenix come August, wintertime in the Valley breeds illness after illness.

But this year seems especially bad to some physicians, primarily because the half-dozen or so viruses circulating don't provide any cross-immunity.

"You get over one and you get another one," Wooten said. "I have some parents who say their kids have been sick for two months, and to them, it probably seems like that."

Illnesses making the rounds range from the respiratory syncytial virus, common in infants and through early childhood, to common colds caused by rhinoviruses and adenoviruses. Symptoms run the gamut, from running noses to dry coughs, from breathing problems to fevers and body aches.

Even worse, there's little doctors can do to treat viral illnesses because they can't be fought with antibiotics.

Wooten blames pollution and allergies for exacerbating seasonal illnesses. People are being hit with upper and lower respiratory viruses at the same time plants are flowering and smog is hanging over the Valley, held tight like a lid by the winter inversion. "We probably have it worse in the desert Southwest than the rest of country," Wooten said.

Added Dr. Karen Lewis, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist, "People forget that there are hundreds, thousands of viruses out there ready to pounce."

The situation is troubling for infants because they can't breathe through their mouths like adults when they get congested. That's why many babies wind up in the emergency room.

"Their airways are so much smaller, and their little noses get plugged up," Lewis said, explaining why RSV is serious in infants under 2. Their noses are suctioned, and many are given oxygen. Those who are dehydrated are given fluids intravenously.

RSV and other respiratory viruses in infants lead to bronchilitis, an inflammation of the small airways. Bronchilitis was responsible for illnesses in about 1,900 babies who visit the emergency room at Phoenix Children's Hospital in January. And an additional 2,000 or so infants have landed in the hospital's ER this month, said Dr. David Bank, director of emergency services.

The situation is similar at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. Its emergency room swabs the noses of sick children who have to be admitted to the hospital so that it can group them by illness. RSV kids, for example, aren't treated around children diagnosed with a gastrointestinal virus.

"Viruses sound benign generally, but AIDS is a virus, too," said Dr. Michael Christopher, medical director for St. Joseph's emergency department, illustrating his point.

Christopher characterized this year's cold season as medium for intensity, noting that it's not as bad as three years ago. Regardless of a person's age, the best treatment often is rest and staying out of crowds. For children, that means staying home from school and day care.

"I know it's inconvenient for parents, but children really should be kept home," said Cynthia Benedict, early-childhood director for the Tri-City Jewish Community Center in Tempe for 27 years.

The center's infant-through-kindergarten room has been hit with a variety of upper-respiratory infections, both viral and bacterial, Benedict said. Six out of 15 children on average were out sick on any given day up until only recently, she added.

Last week, a third of the 3-year-old class at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church was out sick, Director Lisa Petersen said. The pre-school sent home letters to parents of the 16 children in the class, alerting them to various illnesses making the rounds.

"It seems like we have more this year, like pink eye, that just won't quit," Petersen added.

Public schools have been hit equally hard.

After surveying its 32 school nurses, Washington Elementary School District reported that absenteeism has been higher for staff and students this year. "And its lasting longer this year than ever before," spokeswoman Nedda Shafir said.

On the up side, at least the flu season has been mild, said Ken Komatsu, an epidemiologist with the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Flu activity throughout the state is considered regional, affecting fewer than 50 percent of the population. But that may soon change as the health department checks in with commercial labs and far-flung counties.

"It seems to be picking up a little bit," Komatsu said.

Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-8975.

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