Childhood Illnesses: The Facts
While vaccines have made some childhood illnesses rare, many others remain a fact of life. They range from common infections like croup to mysterious ailments like Kawasaki disease. In the following slides, you'll learn the facts about two dozen childhood illnesses. But be sure to consult your pediatrician for proper diagnosis and treatment.
RSV stands for respiratory syncytial virus, and it's the top cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways) and pneumonia in U.S. infants. The infection begins with flu-like symptoms, including a fever, runny nose, and cough. Up to 40% of young children with their first RSV infection will develop noticeable wheezing, and up to 2% will require hospitalization. RSV tends to be milder in older kids and adults.
Young children are prone to ear infections because of their small Eustachian tubes. These tubes connect the ears to the throat, and they may get blocked when a cold causes inflammation. This traps fluid inside the middle ear, behind the eardrum, allowing germs to breed. The symptoms include fever, fussiness, and ear-pulling. Most ear infections are due to viruses and go away on their own. Childhood vaccinations help prevent infections from certain bacteria that can cause ear infections
Hand-foot-and-mouth disease causes a fever along with blisters on the inside of the mouth, the palms of the hands, the buttocks, and the soles of the feet. In the U.S., it is usually caused by coxsackievirus A16. This virus tends to spread among children during summer and early fall. Most cases are not serious and last a week to 10 days.
Tearing, redness, itching, and crusty eyelashes are all signs of conjunctivitis, commonly called pinkeye. Often caused by the same viruses as the common cold, pinkeye spreads rapidly in schools and day care centers. Consult your pediatrician to determine whether your child needs treatment. Most cases clear up in four to seven days.
Before the introduction of an effective vaccine, rotavirus was the top cause of diarrhea-related deaths in young children. The main symptoms are vomiting and watery diarrhea, which can make babies become dehydrated very quickly. There are now two rotavirus vaccines for infants, and studies indicate a dramatic drop in the number of new cases.
Once a very itchy rite of passage, chickenpox is now preventable through the varicella vaccine. The reasons for vaccination go beyond sparing your child the uncomfortable red blisters. Chickenpox can cause dangerous complications in newborns, adults, and pregnant women. Before the vaccine, chickenpox sent 11,000 Americans to the hospital every year.
If your kids are up-to-date on their vaccines, you probably don't have to worry about measles. But the CDC has reported outbreaks among unvaccinated children. The infection starts with a fever, runny nose, and cough. As these symptoms fade, a full-body rash appears. Most kids get better in two weeks, but some develop pneumonia or other problems.
Mumps is another childhood illness that was very common before a vaccine was developed. The infection often causes no symptoms, but when it does, the classic sign is swollen glands between the ear and jaw. This creates the appearance of "chipmunk cheeks." Despite high vaccination rates, recent outbreaks have infected thousands of people in the U.S.
Whooping Cough (Pertussis)
Whooping cough makes children cough so hard, they run out of breath and inhale with a "whoop." The infection is most severe in infants and may require hospital treatment. The medical term for the disease is pertussis -- the "P" in the DTaP vaccine. Antibiotics are not especially helpful in treatment, so vaccination is essential for prevention. Adults need a booster shot every 10 years and pregnant women need a booster with every pregnancy.
Meningitis is an inflammation or infection of the tissue around the brain and spinal cord. In teens and adults, the main symptoms are headache, fever, and stiff neck. Young children may have flu-like symptoms or extreme irritability. Viral meningitis is usually mild, but bacterial meningitis is more severe with serious consequences if it isn't treated quickly. Vaccines are available to prevent certain bacterial causes of meningitis.
Sometimes a rough, red rash accompanies strep throat. This is known as scarlet fever. The rash begins on the chest and abdomen and spreads all over the body, accompanied by a strawberry-looking tongue and high fever. Without treatment, it can lead to rheumatic fever and, in rare cases, heart damage. That's why scarlet fever was once a dreaded childhood illness. Today, it is easily cured with antibiotics.
Is it a cold or the flu? These illnesses can have similar symptoms. The flu more commonly causes high fever, chills, body aches, extreme fatigue, and nausea or vomiting. While most children get better on their own, the flu can lead to serious complications like pneumonia, especially in younger children. The CDC recommends an annual flu vaccination for children ages 6 months and older.
Seasonal allergies, sometimes called hay fever, are not an infection, but a reaction to microscopic particles like pollen (seen here in pink). Symptoms may include sneezing, watery eyes, and a runny or stuffy nose and may only occur in spring or fall. Kids may constantly rub their nose with the palm of the hand, a gesture called the allergic salute. There is no cure for hay fever, but there are ways to help control the symptoms.
Sources : David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP on Thursday, January 16, 2014
Slideshow: Children's Health - Childhood Illnesses Every Parent Should Know