If you're a parent, then you are uncomfortably familiar with just how easily kids pass germs to one another. Once your kids hit preschool or kindergarten, it can start to feel like they are always sick! That's why cold and flu season can be so stressful for parents - it doesn't feel like a matter of if their kids get sick, but a matter of when. Most of the time, the germs result in a gnarly cold or cough that takes a bit longer to go away than you'd like. But there are also several common childhood illnesses and infections that you'll probably go head-to-head with at least once on your parenting journey. For the most part, these common childhood illnesses and infections aren't serious (but they can be if your child is immunocompromised or you have a baby at home!). But it can be helpful to know how to avoid them as much as possible.
Cold And Flu
Cold and flu season officially starts in October, but if you have small kids, cold season can last all year long. In fact, preschool kids catch between 6-10 colds a year! Flu season can be particularly worrisome, as influenza can turn serious very quickly, and kills tens of thousands of people a year.
Cold and flu are so common among school-aged children because the germs spread easily and quickly. Germs are spread via droplets in the air from when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or through rubbing their eyes or face after direct contact with an infected person or contaminated surface. For the flu, your best kine of defense is to make sure your kids get their annual flu shot early in flu season. For colds and the flu, good hygiene practices can go a long way to keeping your kids healthy - teach your kids how to properly wash their hands with warm, soapy water, teach them not to share items like utensils and food, and keep them from putting their hands or other items in their mouths.
This is another one that is incredibly contagious! Pinkeye, or conjunctivitis, is an irritation of the eye and lining of the eyelid. Symptoms include red, itchy eyes, yellow or green discharge, sensitivity to light, and crustiness along the eyelid. Pinkeye can be spread when a child touches a contaminated surface or person, and then touches their eyes.
As with colds and flu, good hygienic practices go a long way toward preventing pinkeye. Kids should wash their hands with warm, soapy water frequently, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when they can't wash. Do not share personal items like pillowcases, sheets, towels, or or washcloths with an infected person.
Hand, Foot, Mouth Disease
Hand, foot, mouth disease, or HFM, is a common childhood illness that typically affects babies and kids under the age of 5. It's a viral illness, so it's passed from child to child in much the same way as colds, flu, and pinkeye - a child can become infected after coming into contact with another infected child, or by touching a contaminated surface. The virus is passed through the saliva, mucus, fecal matter, and fluid from blisters of an infected person.
HFM is VERY contagious in the first week of the illness, and if your child has HFM, they should be kept home from school and away from healthy adults ans children. Again, hand-washing and sanitizing are the best defenses against HFM. It's also important not to share food, drinks, or utensils, as the fluid from mouth blisters can be easily passed along this way.
This is one of those common childhood illnesses that is often missed, since the symptoms are easily mistaken for other ailments. It's a viral illness common in school-aged kids, and starts with a runny or stuffy nose and low-grade fever. Shortly after that resolves, a bright red rash will appear on the cheeks, and can spread to the arms, trunk, and legs. Because kids with Fifths are most contagious during the stuffy nose stage (before the rash presents), it can be easy to miss, and easy to spread.
Fifth Disease is spread through saliva and mucus, so good hygiene practices are key. But because the most contagious period is when a kid has a runny or stuff nose, it's easily mistaken for a simple cold - when doesn't a kid have a runny or stuff nose?! Talk to your kids about avoiding sharing items with kids in their class who are coughing or have a runny nose.
Gastroenteritis, Or Stomach Flu
The stomach flu isn't actually influenza at all - many people mistake gastroenteritis for flu symptoms, but real flu doesn't typically involve the tummy. Gastroenteritis, however, can be just as unpleasant. You never want to hear that a kid in your kid's class threw up at school ... you know your kid's turn probably isn't far behind! Gastroenteritis can include stomach pain or cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, and fever. Luckily, it's usually very short-lived.
The best way to prevent the stomach flu is to keep your child away from anyone who has it. The virus is spread through close contact with an infected person, or by eating food prepared by or sharing food with someone who has it. Frequent hand-washing (and hand-sanitizing), not sharing food or utensils, and not putting their hands in their mouth can help.
While many common childhood illnesses or infections aren't serious, some can be incredibly difficult to manage, and left untreated, can develop into more serious illnesses. Strep throat is a common childhood illness (although it can also affect adults) caused by a strain of bacteria called A streptococcus. It's highly contagious and is spread when an infected person sneezes or coughs, or through sharing drinks or utensils with an infected person. Symptoms include a severe sore throat, fever, rash, headache, or vomiting, and it's characterized by swollen tonsils and small red sores on the back of the throat or roof of the mouth.
Hand-washing, using hand-sanitizer, and not sharing food, drinks, or utensils with other kids is the best way to prevent your child from getting strep throat. Strep throat does require antibiotics, so if you suspect your child has it, have them seen by a doctor ASAP.
Not all common childhood illnesses or infections are contagious! Ear infections are incredibly common in childhood, and cannot be passed from child to child. However, colds can make ear infections more likely, so keeping your child healthy is still key in preventing ear infections. Some ear infections will go away on their own, but many times, antibiotics are required to clear it up.
Some children are more prone to ear infections, and end up having a surgery to put tubes in their ears to prevent them. Keep your children away from people who are sick, and avoid letting your baby or toddler drink a bottle while lying down.
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