What is viral infections?

Viral Infections
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Viral infections in teens: Overview

You don't feel well, but it's not clear what's causing it. You may have a viral infection. Viruses cause many illnesses, such as the common cold, influenza, fever, and rashes. Viruses also cause the diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting that are symptoms of a stomach infection. You may wonder if antibiotic medicines could make you feel better. But antibiotics only treat infections caused by bacteria. They don't work on viruses.

The good news is that viral infections usually aren't serious. Most will go away in a few days without medical treatment. In the meantime, there are a few things you can do to make yourself more comfortable.

Viral infection

A viral infection is caused by a virus and is often the cause of minor illness, such as a cold or a stomach infection. A viral infection usually causes many different symptoms that often come on quickly (over hours to a day or two) without prior illness.

Viral infections that cause minor illnesses are usually not serious. And they go away without medical treatment. Home treatment can relieve the symptoms of colds and stomach infections. And home treatment can prevent problems, such as dehydration, too. Antibiotics are not used to treat a viral illness and will not help cure a viral illness.

Some immunizations can prevent viral infections, including influenza (flu), chickenpox, and measles. Practicing good hygiene and avoiding close contact with sick people can also help prevent infection.

Teens: How can you care for yourself when you have a viral infection?

  • Get plenty of rest if you feel tired.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain medicine if needed, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label. No one younger than 20 should take aspirin. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • Be careful when taking over-the-counter cold or flu medicines and Tylenol at the same time. Many of these medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Read the labels to make sure that you are not taking more than the recommended dose. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Stay home from school, work, and other public places while you have a fever.

Viral infections in teens: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You passed out (lost consciousness).

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You seem to be getting much sicker.
  • You have a new or higher fever.
  • You have a severe headache.
  • You have a stiff neck.
  • You have blood in your stools.
  • You have new belly pain, or your pain gets worse.
  • You have a new rash.
  • You are confused or disoriented.
  • You have trouble thinking or concentrating.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You start to get better and then get worse.
  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.