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Food & Health

Most Common Illnesses In Children

Eight to 10 infections per year — that’s the average number of viral infections you can expect your child to get when in childcare and preschool.

The good news is: these tend to be “mild, short, and self-limiting”, says Dr Chan Si Min, a consultant of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the National University of Singapore. Dr Wendy Sinnathamby, a specialist in paediatrics and consultant at the Raffles Children’s Centre breaks it down to “six to eight upper respiratory tract infections a year and up to two to three bouts of gastro-enteritis a year”.

Common Childhood Infections

Aside from the common cold and cough that children get, here are some of the more common infections that little ones are susceptible to:

  1. Chicken Pox

    Chickenpox (Varicella) is an itchy generalised rash which starts with a fever, headache, sore throat or stomachache and appears as pink pauples (bumps) that develop ion vesicles (blisters) that burst and scab over. It usually appears first on the tummy, back and face before spreading to almost everywhere not he body — including the scalp, mouth, arms, legs and genitals. In severe cases, lesions can spread to the throat and eyes, and lead to other complications like pneumonia, bacterial skin infection and nervous system involvement can occur.

    Good to know: there is an optional vaccine available to protect against chicken pox and the current recommendation is two doses to minimise the risk of chicken pox. The vaccine may also be effective, if given within 72 hours of exposure to chickenpox, to a child who has not received the vaccine.

  2. Hand, Foot And Mouth Disease (HFMD)

    HFMD is a common viral illness that is very contagious and easily spread between children in close proximity through saliva, fluid from the nose, blisters as well as stools. It usually starts with fever, sore throat, drooling, headaches, loss of appetite and abdominal pain. It also causes painful ulcers in the back of the throat, tonsils, mouth and tongue. Other symptoms include lethargy, poor appetite, diarrhoea and vomiting. 

    Good to know: There is no vaccine available at the moment and the best form of defence is teaching good hygiene principles to your children. Older siblings and adults who have had HFMD are unlikely to develop it for the second time.

  3. Influenze (or the flu)

    This is similar to the common cold, but more severe than the typical sneezing and stuffiness of a cold. Symptoms for it include fever chills, cough or sore throat, appetite loss, lethargy, headache and muscle aches.Flu is spread by the flu virus through direct contact with nasal secretions when an infected person sneezes or coughs. And as the strains change yearly, a person can repeatedly get influenza.

    Good to know: You can get vaccinated against flu, and the vaccine should be taken on a yearly basis. To lower your child of catching the flu virus, get them to wash their hands thoroughly and frequently, never pick up used tissues; never share cups and eating utensils and cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing.  

  4. Viral Gastroenteritis (or food poisoning)

    This can be caused by many different viruses and symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and tummy pain. If your child is not drinking enough to replace the fluids lost through diarrhoea and vomiting, they will become dehydrated, have fewer tears, less urine and a dry mouth. Gastroenteritis is usually spread by direct contact with someone who is unwell or by children touching contaminated surfaces / toys and placing their hands in their mouth. The best way to treat it is to encourage your young ones to drink more water.

    Good to know: The rotavirus is the most common cause and the rotavirus vaccine will help prevent severe rotavirus illness.

Originally published in “Mum… I think I’m not feeling well”, in Singapore’s Child Jan 2013.