Illnesses in young children

Sudden spots, fever or tummy ache. Sometimes it may be a well-known childhood illness, other times an unknown virus. Here we tell you about some of the commonest illnesses affecting young children.

These days measles, rubella and mumps are included in the vaccination that all children receive at the age of 18 months (the MMR vaccine). Children can also be vaccinated against measles earlier if your family intends to go abroad.
The vaccines provide protection in most cases, but young children can still fall prey to certain other diseases.

Chickenpox is a highly contagious viral disease that starts with a fever, tiredness and headache. The rash then breaks out into small spots, which usually appear first on the stomach. These quickly form itchy blisters that resemble droplets of water on the skin. The blisters can easily be scratched open. They spread to the face, scalp, arms, legs and mucous membranes.
Children recover once the fever and blisters are gone, usually after a week. Once all the blisters have dried out into scabs, the child is no longer infectious.
Nearly all children have had chickenpox by the time they start school, and are thus immune.
If you are pregnant, suspect you have become infected and you have never had chickenpox before, contact your midwife.

Roseola mainly affects children under the age of 3. The child develops a high temperature for 3-4 days but has no other symptoms. After the fever, the child develops a pink rash, which is not itchy and often starts on the tummy and chest. It disappears after a couple of days. Once the fever and rash have gone, the child recovers and is no longer infectious.

Slapped cheek syndrome
Slapped cheek syndrome, also known as fifth disease or erythema infectiosum, is caused by a virus and occurs most commonly in children. It usually starts with a rash on the face, which then spreads to the arms and legs, often in a wreath-like pattern. The child has a high temperature, headache and sometimes an upset stomach. The disease passes in about a week. Children can go to nursery when they are free of fever and feeling healthy, even if the rash is still present.
If you are pregnant and suspect you have become infected with slapped cheek syndrome, contact your midwife.

Hand, foot and mouth disease
Hand, foot and mouth disease is a viral infection in the mouth, most commonly found in children under 10. Spots may be found inside the mouth, on the lips or on the tongue. They often turn into small sores that can make it hard for your child to eat. Children also sometimes get blisters on their hands and feet. Symptoms are usually accompanied by a temperature of 38-39 degrees.
Hand, foot and mouth is often spread via nursery schools during late summer or autumn, mainly via hand contact.
The infection passes by itself within a week. Children can play with friends or go to nursery when they feel healthy again.

Impetigo is caused by streptococcus or staphylococcus bacteria. It tends to affect pre-school age children. It usually starts as an itchy spot near the mouth or nose. The spot or spots turn into blisters that then turn into fluid-filled sores.
If your child does not have a temperature, the rash can be treated by washing it twice a day with liquid soap and water, morning and night. Be extra careful to wash your hands, and change pillowcases frequently to avoid spreading the infection. Children of pre-school age should be kept at home until the sores appear to have dried out completely.

Whooping cough (pertussis)
Whooping cough (pertussis) starts like an ordinary cold, with catarrh and a dry cough. It is at this stage that the child is most infectious. After about a week, the cough gets worse, particularly at night, reaching its worst point after about three weeks. The bouts of coughing become so intense that the child gasps for breath, causing the distinctive “whooping” noise. Other symptoms include vomiting during attacks of coughing.
Cool, fresh air usually helps. Offer food that is easy to eat and keep them company during nights when they are coughing a lot. Raising the head of the bed can relieve the coughing a little.
The cough may last for many weeks after the infection has passed. Whooping cough is debilitating for both children and parents. After four to six weeks, the child is usually regarded as healthy, although the cough may persist for a few weeks longer.
Infants who are exposed to pertussis infection may need antibiotics, either preventively if someone in the family is ill, or when early symptoms occur.
All Swedish children are now offered vaccination against whooping cough, initially at the age of 3 months.

Scarlet fever
Scarlet fever often starts with a high temperature, sore throat, headache and vomiting. The child develops flushed cheeks and a red, swollen tongue. A day or two later an itchy rash breaks out, starting in the armpits and groin before spreading to other areas of the body. But the clearest indication that you are dealing with scarlet fever comes another couple of days later: what is known as strawberry tongue, where the child's tone is swollen and red with small bumps.
Scarlet fever is usually treated with antibiotics. Children are no longer infectious two days after treatment begins.

RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) affects most children under the age of two at some point. It passes and is usually treated as a common cold, with catarrh, a slight temperature, irritated eyes and coughing.
Infants under the age of two months are at particular risk of a severe infection, with a bad cough and thick phlegm in the nose and bronchial passages. Seek medical advice if your child is coughing, not eating properly, or becomes pale and tired. The condition can cause breathing problems in very young or premature infants. Serious RS-infection in infants increases the risk of asthma-related breathing complications during colds in infancy.
RSV turns into an epidemic in some years, usually in winter. Check with your paediatric clinic to find out if this is the case now in your area, and take a little extra care with your baby. Always avoid exposing young babies to people who have a cold, or to areas with lots of people.

Read more about high temperatures and small children.
Read more about baby rashes and spots.
Read more about colds and children.

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