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Sore Throat Viruses

Mom, my throat hurts. What Sore Throat Viruses are Going Around Town?

Many germs love the winter season. A pediatrician’s busy season is usually October to April.  So, I thought it would be helpful to give you a periodic run-down of the infections I’m seeing in my office over the next several weeks.  I’ll call it the “Bug O’ the Week”. Although there is some variability across the country as to when these usual suspects arrive, I guarantee that they will hit your town at some point this winter.

This week’s bug: Sore throat viruses

There are several viruses that cause a sore throat. Right now, there are three different viruses that my patients are coming down with.

Bug #1: The common cold (Rhinovirus)

This is one we are all familiar with. Here are the typical symptoms: runny nose, cough, and sometimes a sore throat. A child might run a fever at the beginning of the illness for a few days, but not always. Symptoms can last for 10-14 days. No, that was not a typo. You do not need to be worried if your child still has a runny nose or a cough that lingers for a while. No antibiotics are necessary to treat this illness.

Bug #2: Adenovirus

Never heard of this one? Well, it’s actually a very common viral illness. Adenovirus causes a sore throat, sometimes associated with pink eye (the whites of the eyes will look red). Many kids will run a fever with it. In little ones who are too young to say that their throat hurts, fever and a lack of interest in eating may be the only obvious symptoms. But, if you take a look at your child’s throat (if he lets you), you will see that the tonsils are red and swollen. No antibiotics are needed because this is a viral infection, not a bacterial one.

Bug #3: Hand, foot and mouth (Coxsackievirus)

This one is a surprise for pediatricians to see this time of year because coxsackievirus usually shows up in the spring or summer. The name sounds worse than the disease. No, it has nothing to do with the cow disease, hoof and mouth! Kids will get sores or ulcers in the back of the throat, sometimes with a rash on the hands and feet (sometimes flat red dots, sometimes fluid filled like ant bites). They usually run a fever for the first few days of illness. Since this is also a virus, there is no medication to make the infection go away.  I suggest avoiding citrus and salty food and drink until the infection clears because those open sores in the mouth will sting. Again, you might not know what your child has if he is too young to tell you his mouth hurts. Clues: lack of interest in eating, drooling, fever with no other obvious symptoms.

To make things even more confusing, Strep Throat is also going around. That is a bacterial infection that does need to be treated with antibiotics. It’s more common in kids over two years of age who are old enough to tell you their throat hurts. If your child has a sore throat without a cough, runny nose, or pink eye, he should see his medical provider.


So what’s a parent to do for a child who is miserable with a sore throat?

  1. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen for kids over six months of age (Be sure your baby sees his doctor to confirm the diagnosis if he is under six months of age to use acetaminophen).
  2. Push the fluids. Don’t worry about eating solid food right now.
  3. Try popsicles, smoothies, or a milkshake if your child resists drinking.
  4. Lots of TLC from you!



Not sure if your child needs to see a doctor? 

Use the AAP Symptom Checker.