Fort Worth, Texas,
15:12 PM

When It Comes to Your Kids It’s Never Just a Virus

“It’s just a virus.”

I hate that phrase and I know it never gives parents comfort when they hear it from doctors.

Doctors (I’ll admit I’ve said it too) usually say “it’s just a virus” to let parents know we don’t see anything that suggests a bacterial infection so your child doesn’t need antibiotics or other specific treatment. This is an infection caused by a virus and should go away over time. It’s meant to comfort mom and dad.

Then the appointment usually ends with “if things don’t get better to let me know.”

But it’s never JUST a virus when it’s your child, is it? As parents we know that viruses aren’t always simple and that kids can be VERY miserable and even get VERY sick.

RSV and flu still strike fear in the hearts of many parents. So much so that they’ll choose to have me test for them, even if I assure them it won’t change the treatment either way. But sometimes, the knowledge and the ability to put a name to it provides some level of comfort or the negative test gives them the ability to take a deep breath and relax (even though a no-name virus can be as scary as a named one).

We should take viruses seriously, after all they’ve been the cause of many of the most serious conditions the medical community has ever faced. Like I said earlier, once you catch a virus there’s not a whole lot doctors can do. We have to wait it out, try to treat the symptoms as we can and simply let things run its course.

That’s why the advancements that have been made in vaccines have been so essential. They were created to prevent the viruses before your child caught them or to lessen their severity if they did.

We don’t often think that these very serious conditions are viruses, but fortunately we have a vaccine for them:

  • Polio which for many children might cause no symptoms at all or a mild upper respiratory illness, can also lead to devastating, permanent paralysis.
  • Measles which for many children cause a syndrome with fever, rash and upper respiratory symptoms, can also cause pneumonia, death and a severe neurologic disease called SSPE which develops 5-10 years after the infection.
  • Mumps which for many children caused fever, muscle aches and headache, can also cause infertility in males, meningitis and hearing loss.
  • Hepatitis B which many believe to be a disease of adults (because it can be sexually transmitted and needle-borne) actually caused many infections in babies who contracted it from their mothers. Hepatitis B was less likely to be cleared by children which led to a 40 percent chance of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Fortunately, for these viruses along with the flu, chicken pox and Hepatitis A, we can now protect kids with vaccines. We can protect them, not only from the suffering associated with the illness but also the devastating complications that can arise as a result of them.

How would it have felt to live in a time when these viruses were common?

Think about how you feel when you read stories about the polio-like illness that has been spreading across the country or how you feel when you hear that there are cases of measles in your community. Then imagine that you know someone or at least know someone who knows someone who has suffered from one of these disease personally.


Imagine a doctor telling a family it’s “just a virus” in this environment. It wouldn’t fly.

I promise I’ll try to avoid saying “just a virus” but I’m thankful that it’s easier for me to get away with it today … thanks to vaccines.

Get to know Justin Smith, M.D.

Justin Smith, M.D., is a pediatrician in Trophy Club  and the Medical Advisor for Digital Health for Cook Children's in Fort Worth, Texas. Dr. Smith is an experienced keynote speaker for a variety of topics including pediatric/parenting topics, healthcare social media and physician leadership. If you are interested in having Dr. Smith present to your conference or meeting, please contact him at

He has an active community on both Facebook and Twitter as @TheDocSmitty and writes weekly for Cook Children's He believes that strategic use of social media and technology by pediatricians to connect with families can deepen their relationship and provide a new level of convenience for both of their busy lifestyles. Dr. Smith’s innovative pediatric clinic, a pediatric clinic “designed by you,” open now. Click to learn more. To make an appointment, call 817-347-8100.


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