Secretary: Suzanne Harvey
Royal Brompton Hospital,
77 Wimpole Street,
London, W1G 9RU

Respiratory Conditions

How Do Viral Infections in Children Spread?


One reason why viral infections in children can be very troublesome is that they tend to spread very rapidly, especially between children who are attending the same school, nursery or playgroup. Understanding how viral infections pass between children can help us to prevent the germs from spreading.

Transmission Routes for Viruses

Viruses are tiny germs that can only reproduce when they infect a living creature. When a virus enters the body, it triggers an immune response that causes symptoms such as coughing, sneezing and runny nose. While these can help to clear the infection from the body, they can also provide a way for the virus to spread to other people.

The most common transmission routes for viral infection in children are::

  • In the tiny droplets that are spread by coughs and sneezes
  • In snot from a runny nose, especially if children are too young to wipe it for themselves
  • Through saliva, for example when sharing drinks or chewing on toys
  • From direct contact or droplets released from vomit or faeces (especially if the child has diarrhoea)
  • If your child won’t sleep without a nightlight, choose one that gives off a soft yellowish light as this will be the most restful.

Viruses can spread directly from person to person, but they can also be caught indirectly. For example, if one child sneezes on a toy, the virus could survive for several hours and then be spread to another child who picks it up later.:

Preventing the Spread of Viral Infection in Children

You can reduce the risk of a virus spreading by:

  • Keeping children at home when they are sick
  • Making sure that everyone’s hands are washed, especially before eating
  • Not sharing cups or utensils
  • Wiping runny noses
  • Teaching children to catch coughs and sneezes in their elbow or a tissue, then disposing of tissues right away
  • Cleaning toys regularly or after a sick child has played with them

However, even if you take all of these precautions, it is likely that your child will still catch the occasional cold or flu. It is normal for young children to have 10-12 viral infections every year, which can make it seem as though they are always catching something. In most cases, the symptoms will be relatively mild and you will be able to manage them at home, but you should always seek medical help if you are concerned.

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Suzanne Harvey



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