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Common Cold in Children. Is it a Bacterial Infection or Virus?

The common cold is the most widespread illness among children. According to statistics, American children miss 22 million days of school every year due to infections.

In this Article, you will Learn

  • Virus or bacteria: What is making kids sick more often?
  • Why do children have more colds than adults?
  • 10 warning signs of immunodeficiency in children that require special treatment.

What is an Upper Respiratory Infection (URI)?

The common cold is the non-medical name for URI. But FLU is an acute respiratory viral infection with a laboratory-confirmed diagnosis.
Colds are provoked by viruses, however, it is critical to understand the difference between viruses and bacteria. Viruses are tiny, primitive, cell-free particles. Just like parasites, viruses invade the cells of another organism as they cannot survive independently in the external environment. They survive by invading cells and using those cells to multiply and produce other viruses. For example, hepatitis viruses enter the liver cells, other viruses live only in the lungs and cause pneumonia. When the virus replicates, it can mutate.

There are two possible routes of human-to-human transmission of respiratory viruses: contact and airborne. In both cases, a drop of water contains viruses. The only difference is in the size of the particles that enter the body. However, most viruses cannot function outside a host organism and die quickly from exposure to ultraviolet radiation, antiseptics, and high temperatures.

Video “How A Virus Invades Your Body”

Most Common Symptoms of Common Cold

  • Cough

  • Runny nose

  • Nasal congestion

  • Fever

  • Sore throat

  • General malaise

What is a Bacterial Infection?

Bacteria are complete living organisms. They are much larger than viruses and can survive outside of a host. Bacteria reproduce on their own and do not require a host cell for this purpose.

Viruses differ from bacteria in size, structure, and life forms. Viral infections do not turn into bacterial, but bacteria can bind to viral infections. Doctors call it bacterial complications. Antibiotics only treat bacterial infections, while there are practically no cures for viruses. Hence, antibiotics are useless against viral infections. They cannot penetrate the cell and get to the virus.

90% of all colds are viral infections that resolve on their own. 

Why Do Kids Get More Colds Than Adults?

Why Do Kids Get More Colds Than Adults
  • Anatomical features. Children have a short eustachian tube (a canal that connects the nasal cavity to the ear). Only children have adenoids (tonsils in the nose) that trap viruses and bacteria. Weak intercostal muscles that prevent children from coughing properly.

  • Social features. Overcrowded conditions, enclosed spaces.

  • Psychological features. Adults pay much more attention and care to sick children.

  • Improper treatment that causes delayed recovery.

Colds can occur at any time of the year, although they occur most frequently in the autumn and winter months. All of the above features make children from 6 to 8 years old get sick 6-10 times a year on average. During these colds, the symptoms last about 14 days. In fact, a child can fall ill for almost half a year.

There are also opposite cases that show malfunction of the immune system (immunodeficiency).

10 Signs of Immunodeficiency in Children

  • Hereditary factor. The family has a history of strange deaths or confirmed immunodeficiency.
  • 8 or more suppurative otitis media (ear infection) within one year.
  • 2 or more severe sinus infections within one year.
  • 2 or more severe pneumonia within one year.
  • Antibiotic therapy has no effect over 2 months.
  • Severe complications after vaccination.
  • Weight loss caused by diarrhea in infants.
  • Recurrent purulent skin infections.
  • 2 or more generalized infections per year (meningitis, sepsis).
  • Persistent fungal infections in children over the age of one.