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Common Illnesses in Young Children
Essential Information for Parents, Guardians, Carers
and anyone looking after Babies or Young Children
Make an emergency action plan for your family to follow.
- Make sure you have easy access to a telephone and/or mobile phone.
- If you have more than one child, make sure you can call on someone at short notice if you have to leave one or more of them.
- Keep these phone numbers near the telephone and ensure children who can, are able to use them. Remember, it might not be one of the children in trouble, it may be you!
- Your G.P. surgery and the children's doctors number, if different.
- All the emergency services.
- Other family members home and work numbers.
- Your local clinic and hospital
- Keep childrens medical records together in a folder, especially if they have chronic conditions. Store them somewhere where you can find them easily.
- Ensure you keep a well stocked First Aid box in the house and in the car. Make sure everyone knows where it is kept. Check it regularly for out of date items and to restock.
- Consider doing a First Aid Course which includes emergency response training.
- Make sure everyone knows the fire drill, what to do, where to go and who to call.
- Check the smoke alarm regularly for battery condition and power. Do the same if you have carbon monoxide detectors.
- Priority!! Fit a fire alarm if you don't have one.
Common Childhood Infectious Illnesses
It's really helpful to recognise the symptoms which may indicate illness and to make informed choices about when to contact the doctor.
Incubation period: 7-12 days.
Infectious period: A few days before the rash appears until 5 days after it goes.
How to recognise the symptoms: It begins like a bad cold (runny nose, watery eyes), cough, loss of appetite. The child will gradually feel more and more unwell, with a temperature. A rash appears after the 3rd or 4th day on the neck, forehead and cheeks, which spreads to the rest of the body. Spots are red and slightly raised, and may be blotchy. The rash is not itchy. The child will become very unwell, with a cough and high temperature. The illness usually lasts about a week.
What parents should do: See a doctor. Give rest and plenty of fluids to drink. Warm drinks will ease cough. Special child strength paracetamol will ease the discomfort and lower temperature. Vaseline around the lips protects the skin. Wash crustiness from eyelids with warm water.
Special points: A very infectious condition. Can be serious and bring complications affecting the ears, lungs and brain. It can even lead to death.
Prevention: However you choose to administer it:- MMR (Measles/Mumps/Rubella) immunisation at 12-18 months.
Incubation period: 7-14 days.
Infectious period: From the first signs of illness until about 6 weeks after coughing first started, unless antibiotics have been given.
How to recognise the symptoms: Begins like a cold and cough. The cough gradually gets worse. After about 2 weeks, coughing bouts start, which are exhausting and frightening, making it difficult to breathe. (I do remember being frightened, and the pain of the coughing fits.) Sometimes (but not always) a whooping noise can be heard as the child draws in breath after coughing. It often causes vomiting. It is usually some weeks before coughing fits start to die down.
What parents should do: If a child has a cough which gets worse and they start to have longer fits of coughing, more and more often, it is essential to see a doctor.
Special points: Very infectious. Can cause convulsions, collapsed lung, even death.
Prevention: DPT (Diptheria/Polio/Tetanus) Immunisations at 2 months, 3 months and 4 months.
Information, types and causes: Meningitis is the inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis is usually bacterial
or viral, and occasionally is due to fungal infections, although almost any microbe can cause it. Viral meningitis can be very unpleasant but it is
almost never life threatening and most people quickly make a full recovery. Bacterial meningitis is more serious and can be caused by a range of
different bacteria, although most cases in the UK and Ireland are caused by meningococcal bacteria. Meningitis and septicaemia can be very serious, especially in babies and young children. It has been known to cause death within hours.
Septicaemia is the more life threatening form of the disease and is more dangerous when there are no signs of meningitis. Early treatment can bring about a complete cure, but can sometimes cause various sorts of handicap, including brain damage.
Types: Meningitis is usually bacterial or viral.
Bacterial Meningitis: At least 50 kinds of bacteria can cause meningitis, but the main types are:
Meningococcal, Pneumococcal, Haemophilus influenzae b (Hib), Group B Streptococcal (GBS), E coli, Listeria, Tubercular (TB).
Viral Meningitis: This type of meningitis is usually relatively mild, with symptoms of headache, fever and general ill feeling, although some serious features of meningitis may occur. Since people with viral meningitis often recover without medical treatment, it is difficult to be certain how common it actually is, but it is probably more common than bacterial meningitis.
Fungal Meningitis: Fungal meningitis is quite rare. It mainly affects people with immune deficiencies.
Additional Information: Bacterial meningitis is relatively rare, extremely serious and needs urgent treatment with antibiotics. The most common form in children is HIB miningitis and children are most at risk between 6 and 15 months. Viral meningitis is more common, but is usually less serious and can't be helped by antibiotics.
How to recognise the symptoms: Meningitis and septicaemia can kill in hours so make sure you know the signs.
Meningitis Symptoms: Severe headache, stiff neck, dislike of bright lights, fever, vomiting, drowsy, less responsive, vacant and a rash anywhere on the body. There may also be signs of fitting (seizures)
Septicaemia Symptoms: Rash anywhere on the body, fever, vomiting, cold hands and feet, shivering, rapid breathing, unusual breathing pattern, stomach pain, joint pain, muscle pain, drowsy and less responsive.
Symptoms can appear in any order and not everyone gets all of these symptoms. Septicaemia can occur with or without meningitis
Other symptoms in babies: Tense or bulging soft spot on their head (fontanelle). Blotchy skin, getting paler or turning blue. Refusing to feed.
Irritable when picked up, with a high pitched or moaning cry. A stiff body with jerky movements, or else floppy and lifeless.
What parents should do: If you think your toddler has meningitis or septicaemia get medical help immediately.
Check for all or some of the above symptoms and do the 'Tumbler Test'.
Check for rash spots over the whole body. Press a glass tumbler firmly against an area of septicaemic rash. You are looking to see if the marks fade. If they do not fade you will be able to see the marks clearly through the glass. IF THIS HAPPENS GET MEDICAL HELP IMMEDIATELY. Watch out for tiny red or brown pin prick marks, which can change into larger red or purple blotches or blood blisters.
The rash can be harder to see on dark skin, so check for spots especially on paler areas like palms of the hands, soles of the feet, the stomach, inside the eyelids and on the roof of the mouth. Remember, this is only a guide, a very ill person needs medical help even if there is no rash, or if they have a rash that fades.
Special points: For more information, or if you are worried about meningitis or septicaemia, call the Meningitis Research Foundation 24 hour helpline - Freefone 080 8800 3344 in the UK, 1800 41 33 44 in the Republic of Ireland - any time of the day or night.
Prevention: There are vaccines available against some types of meningitis and septicaemia and the MenC vaccine introduced in 1999/2000 has drastically reduced the number of cases of group C meningococcal disease in the age groups targeted for vaccination. Despite this, many other equally deadly forms of the diseases are not vaccine preventable, so until research finds the key to defeating these diseases, knowing about the diseases and being able to recognise the symptoms is vital.
The HIB vaccine has greatly reduced cases of Hib disease, including meningitis, since its introduction into the childhood vaccination schedule in 1992.
There is a new long lasting 7-type vaccine which can protect children as young as two months of age against the types of pneumococcal disease responsible for about 80% of cases in children under two. You can get more information from the Meningitis Research Foundation:
Incubation period: 14-21 days. Up to 3 weeks from infection to outbreak.
Infectious period: From a few days before unwell until the swelling goes down. Around 10 days in all.
How to recognise the symptoms: The virus enters the body through the airways, then passes around the body in the bloodstream. It can end up almost everywhere - the kidneys, thyroid gland, pancreas, sexual glands and, not least, the salivary gland. The virus thrives in the parotid salivary glands, which lie in the cheeks just in front of the ears. In the early days the child may be unwell with an increasing temperature. They may complain of pain around the ear or feel uncomfortable when chewing caused by a swelling of the parotid glands. Swelling starts under the jaw, up by the ear, usually on one side, followed (though not always) by the other. It is only possible to get mumps in one of the glands. The body temperature may rise to 40oC and the swelling can feel oppressive and sore. The earlobes stick out and the child's face eventually looks very swollen. The child experiences pain when opening their mouth. The face goes back to normal size after about a week. The child may not feel especially ill, but more a general discomfort.
What parents should do: Child strength paracetamol will ease the pain in swollen glands. Give plenty to drink (water), but not fruit juices as these make saliva flow and can cause discomfort or pain. Generally no need to see the doctor unless the child has stomach-ache and is being sick.
Special points: Mumps and Measles viruses cause some cases of meningitis, but MMR vaccine prevents these types of meningitis. Before the vaccine was available, mumps was the most common cause of viral meningitis in the UK. Mumps was a leading cause of acquired deafness before the advent of mumps vaccines but nevertheless hearing loss is a rare possibility and is usually permenant.
Prevention: However you choose to administer it:- MMR (Measles/Mumps/Rubella) immunisation at 12-18 months.
Rubella (German Measles)
Incubation period: 14-23 days.
Infectious period: From a few days before the illness starts, until a week after the rash first appears.
How to recognise the symptoms: This can be difficult to diagnose with any certainty. It starts like a mild cold. A rash appears in a day or two, first on the face and then spreads to other parts of the body. The spots are flat. They appear pale pink or light red on light skin, which may merge to form evenly colored patches. The rash can itch and lasts up to 3 days. As the rash passes, the affected skin occasionally sheds in very fine flakes. There may be swelling in the glands at the back of the neck. The child doesn't usually feel too 'unwell'.
What parents should do: Keep fluids up by giving plenty to drink. Rubella is usually a mild illness, especially in children and typically requires little special care at home. Monitor your child's temperature. Call your child's doctor if your child develops a fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.9 degrees Celsius) or above (in a child younger than 6 months, call for a fever above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, or 38 degrees Celsius), or if your child appears to be getting sicker than the mild symptoms described above.
Special points: Pregnant women who are not immune should avoid anyone who has the illness and should be vaccinated after delivery so that they will be immune during any future pregnancies. Any pregnant woman who has been exposed to rubella should contact her doctor immediately.
Prevention: However you choose to administer it:- MMR (Measles/Mumps/Rubella) immunisation at 12-18 months.
Incubation period: 14-16 days.
Infectious period: From the day before the rash appears until the spots are dry.
How to recognise the symptoms: The child will begin by feeling unwell with a cold or headache, and will develop a rash and maybe a temperature. Some children will develop abdominal pain, or a vague sick feeling a day or 2 before the rash appears. Spots are red and become yellow fluid-filled blisters within a day or so. First on the chest and back, and they then spread to almost everywhere else on the body, including the scalp, mouth, nose, ears, and genitals. The spots eventually dry into scabs and then drop off. Unless spots are badly infected (which is common when they are picked or scratched off), they don't usually leave a scar. These symptoms may last for a few days, and fever stays in the range of 100 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit (37.7 to 38.8 degrees Celsius), although it may occasionally be higher. Younger children often have milder symptoms and fewer blisters than older children or adults.
What parents should do: Most chickenpox infections require no special medical treatment. However, call your child's doctor immediately if your child has a fever that lasts for more than 4 days or rises above 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.8 degrees Celsius), has a severe cough or trouble breathing, has an area of rash that leaks pus or becomes red, warm, swollen, or sore, has a severe headache, is unusually drowsy or has trouble waking up,
has trouble looking at bright lights, has difficulty walking, seems confused, seems very ill or is vomiting, has a stiff neck.
Special points: Chickenpox is very contagious. One measure you can take to help your child get through the itchy, uncomfortable time is to put calamine lotion on itchy areas (but don't use it on the face, especially near the eyes).
Prevention: Since 1995, a vaccine has been available to children older than 12 months, as well as adults. The vaccine is about 70% to 85% effective at preventing mild infection, and more than 95% effective in preventing moderate or severe disease. People who do develop chickenpox after vaccination have much milder symptoms with fewer skin blisters and a fast recovery. Healthy children who have had chickenpox do not need the vaccine - they usually have lifelong protection against the illness. However, 10% to 20% of people who've had chickenpox develop shingles later in life.
Additional Help and support
NHS Direct operates a 24 hour advice and health information service providing confidential information on illnesses.
Tel: 0845 4647
Web: NHS Direct.
Food Poisoning Symptoms and Advice
Food poisoning is common in children and produces illness that can be easily prevented. The very young are particularly at risk as they may suffer for a longer time with more severe symptoms.
Salmonella is a type of bacteria. It is usually found in poultry, eggs, unprocessed milk and in meat and water. The salmonella bacteria attacks the stomach and intestines. The bacteria may enter the lymph system, which carry water and protein to the blood, and the blood itself. Children, the elderly and people who are already ill are much more likely to get a serious infection.
What are the symptoms of salmonella poisoning?
Most mild types of salmonella infection clear up in four to seven days without requiring any treatment other than rest and plenty of liquid. However, frequent diarrhoea and vomiting may drain the body of fluids, salts and minerals. Dehydration occurs when the patient loses more liquid than they can take in. Cases of dehydration should always be checked by a doctor and can be very dangerous in babies and the elderly. Seek medical advice if your child has dehydration, if diarrhoea continues for more than 24 hours, they have stomach cramps, if you find blood in the faeces, if the child has a fever of 38degrees C or higher, of if there are any signs of Jaundice. The only effective way to kill salmonella bacteria is with heat. For this reason it is essential to cook food thoroughly.
- Diarrhoea or constipation.
- Stomach cramps.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Possibly, blood in the faeces.
Campylobacteriosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria of the genus Campylobacter. Most people who become ill with campylobacteriosis get diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever within 2 to 5 days after exposure to the organism. The diarrhea may be bloody and can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. The illness typically lasts 1 week. Some persons who are infected with Campylobacter don't have any symptoms at all. In persons with compromised immune systems, Campylobacter occasionally spreads to the bloodstream and causes a serious life-threatening infection.
Virtually all persons infected with Campylobacter will recover without any specific treatment. Patients should drink plenty of fluids as long as the diarrhea lasts. In more severe cases, antibiotics such as erythromycin or a fluoroquinolone can be used, and can shorten the duration of symptoms if they are given early in the illness. Your doctor will make the decision about whether antibiotics are necessary.
Many chicken flocks are silently infected with Campylobacter, but show no signs of illness. Unpasteurized milk can become contaminated if the cow has a Campylobacter infection. Surface water and mountain streams can become contaminated from infected feces from cows or wild birds.
Cook all poultry products thoroughly. Wash hands with soap, before and after handling raw foods of animal origin and before touching anything else. Prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen: Use separate cutting boards for foods of animal origin and other foods.
Carefully clean all cutting boards, countertops and utensils with soap and hot water after preparing raw food of animal origin.
Avoid consuming unpasteurized milk and untreated surface water.
Make sure that persons with diarrhea, especially children, wash their hands carefully and frequently with soap to reduce the risk of spreading the infection. Wash hands with soap after having contact with pet feces.
Dysentery is general term for a group of diseases which trigger inflammation of the lining of the large intestines, leading to stomach pains, and diarrhoea, and possibly vomiting and fever. Untreated dysentery can be a killer.
The main symptom of Epidemic Dysentery or Bacillary Dysentery is bloody and watery diarrhoea. Other common symptoms include abdominal cramps, fever, feeling sick, vomiting and rectal pain. Less frequent complications can include a form of blood poisoning known as sepsis, seizure and kidney failure. It is not unknown for dysentery to be fatal. It tends to be more common in infants, the elderly and malnourished people. The condition is caused by bacteria which usually enter the body through the mouth in contaminated food or water, or by physical contact with a person who has already been infected.
Amoebic Dysentery (amoebiasis) is an infection of the intestine caused by an amoeba.
Amoebae are parasites are found in contaminated food or drink and they enter the body through the mouth when the contaminated food or drink is swallowed. The amoebae are then able to move through the digestive system and take up residence in the intestine and cause an infection. These parasites can burrow through the intestinal wall and spread through the bloodstream to infect other organs, such as the liver, lungs and brain.
Dysentery is highly contagious. Only a few bacteria need to be swallowed to trigger the disease. The diarrhoea means that people suffering from the dysentery are likely to dehydrate and lose a large amount of important salts and fluids from the body. Vital organs like the kidneys, brain, and heart cannot function without a certain minimum of water and salt.
Note: Dysentery is a notifiable disease: this means your GP is required to tell the local authority if you have it. It is important that the local authority knows, so that they can try to identify the cause and if necessary take measures to prevent the disease spreading to other people.
Itís very important to make sure the child gets plenty of fluids to replace those lost, or dysentery can be fatal. As dysentery is spread because of poor hygiene, you should: wash hands after using the toilet and regularly throughout the day, keep contact with an infected person to a minimum,
avoid sharing towels and facecloths, wash the laundry of an infected person on the hottest setting possible, and wash your hands before handling, eating or cooking food, handling babies and feeding the young or the elderly.
General Viral Infections
Viruses can spread quickly between vulnerable groups and are especially common in young children between 6 months and 2 years. Viruses can be carried on food, in contaminated water, on toys and childrens other items of play or sustenance, and by people who are infected but who fail to take the necessary hygeine precautions, like washing their hands.
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