Sick days are part of being a kid; worrying about childhood illnesses is part of being a parent. You wonder, what's that weird rash? Does that cough sound worse than before? Am I going to catch this, too?
Parents quickly learn from experience all about ear infections, pinkeye, stomach bugs, colds, and the flu. These things may be most familiar to you, but there's a whole world of childhood illnesses out there that you may not know about.
Several of these childhood illnesses are viral or bacterial infections. That means they are preventable to some extent by encouraging your child to keep his or her hands clean with old-fashioned soap and water. Practicing good "cough etiquette" is another important way of reducing the spread of childhood illnesses. Kids should be taught to cover their mouths when they cough and wash their hands afterward.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a very common childhood illness. It's even more common than seasonal flu. "It causes a lot more problems for children than influenza does," says Michael Brady, MD, an infectious disease expert at Nationwide Children's Hospital, in Columbus, Ohio.
For babies less than 1 year old, RSV is the most common cause of pneumonia and bronchiolitis, an inflammation of the small air passages in the lungs. Wheezing is a telltale symptom of these conditions, which sometimes have to be treated in the hospital. Only about 25% to 40% of young children with their first RSV infection will have any noticeable wheezing, however. Even fewer, 2% or less, are hospitalized.
RSV infections last about one to two weeks. You're not immune to RSV once you've had it. You can have an RSV infection at any age, but "after you get it a few times, it's just a cold to you," Brady says.
2. Fifth Disease
Fifth disease has been called the "slapped cheek" disease because it causes a red rash on the face that looks like a slap mark. A lacy red rash may also appear on the child's torso and limbs. Fifth disease doesn't always make a child feel ill, but it can feel like a cold early on, before the rash shows up.
The cryptic name is a holdover from medical lingo a century ago, when a French physician assigned numbers to the common childhood diseases characterized by rashes. For example, measles was "first disease," scarlet fever was "second disease," and so on.
We now know that fifth disease is caused by a virus called human parvovirus B19. Up to 20% of children may get the virus before age 5, and up to 60% have had it by age 19. Infections are usually not very serious and go away in seven to 10 days. Many children infected with the virus don't show any symptoms. "In most cases, it's a pretty benign situation," Brady says.
However, sometimes infection with parvovirus B19 can lead to new onset of joint pain and be mistaken for rheumatoid arthritis. These joint symptoms usually go away within three weeks.