Kids are taught to share their toys and snacks. Unfortunately, they also share things you’d rather have them keep to themselves — germs. Getting sick is part of growing up, but there are ways to prevent infection and illness. “The best protection is immunization against vaccine-preventable illnesses, good old hand washing, and covering coughs and sneezes,” says Lisa M. Asta, MD, an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of California-San Francisco, who practices in Walnut Creek, Calif.
Getting the chickenpox used to be an expected part of childhood, but not for kids today. A vaccine against the highly contagious varicella zoster virus is now available, making the blistery, itchy rash practically a thing of the past. Dr. Asta says the vaccine protects against 90 to 95 percent of all chickenpox infections. “Children who get chickenpox after being vaccinated generally have a milder illness,” she says. Scratching can infect the skin, so apply calamine lotion to help relieve itchiness.
f your child has cold-like symptoms, then develops a rash that looks like his cheeks were slapped, he may have fifth disease. This illness generally affects kids between 5 and 15 years old and is caused by parvovirus B19, says Kimberly Parker, RN, MSN, clinical program manager for illnesses prevention at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. The rash can spread to the trunk and limbs. In most kids, it’s a mild illness and doesn’t require treatment.
Although relatively rare in the United States thanks to vaccines, measles still affects 10 million people worldwide. The illness is a viral respiratory infection that causes fever, a hacking cough, and a total body rash. Measles can be serious and even fatal. The only way to prevent it is by vaccinating your child with the measles-mumps-rubella immunization (MMR). It’s given in two doses and is sometimes combined with the varicella (chickenpox) vaccine.
he MMR vaccine also protects against the mumps, a viral infection that causes headache, loss of appetite, and fever. The most well-known sign of mumps is swollen, painful salivary glands. Mumps is usually not serious inkids, but in some cases, serious complications can occur. Before the introduction of the vaccine in 1967, mumps was a common childhood illness in the United States, causing more than 200,000 cases a year. That number is now less than 1,000 cases annually.
MMR also protects against rubella, or German measles. “Rubella is a mild viral infection for children with fever and rash,” says Asta. However, the infection poses a real risk to unborn children. “If a woman who has not been immunized against rubella contracts the infection in early pregnancy, the fetus is at risk for severe congenital defects,” she says. Women who are not immune and are contemplating motherhood should consider getting a rubella virus vaccine at least a month before conception.
Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease
Hand, foot, and mouth disease is considered a mild viral infection that generally affects kids younger than 10. Symptoms are painful mouth sores, fever, and sometimes a rash — typically on the palms of the hands and bottoms of the feet. There is no vaccine and nearly all kids are better in a week to 10 days. Hand, foot, and mouth disease is sometimes confused with hoof and mouth disease, which strikes livestock. However, they are not related.
Despite its name, ringworm is not caused by a worm — it’s a fungal infection. It causes a ring-shaped, itchy rash that can affect the scalp and nails, too. Asta says it is important to get a correct diagnosis, so the right medications are used. “Your pediatrician may be able to recommend an over-the-counter treatment,” she says. Ringworm is very common and contagious, so get it treated and make sure your kids aren’t sharing towels.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is spread to people through bites from infected ticks. One distinctive sign is a bull’s-eye-shaped rash; however, not everyone gets this. Flu-like symptoms occur in early stages. Parker says that, when diagnosed early, the illness is usually successfully treated with antibiotics.Lyme disease is most common in the Northeast and upper Midwest. Using insect repellent with 20 to 30 percent DEET is good protection, but consult your child’s doctor first.
Once these tiny bugs make a home on your child’s scalp, they cause itchy heads and can be difficult to get rid of, says Parker, who recommends asking your doctor about medication. Lice and nits (eggs) can be removed with a fine-toothed comb. To avoid getting lice, tell your child to avoid head-to-head contact with other kids and not to share personal items, such as combs, hats, or hair ribbons.