Causes: What are the causes of childhood diseases?
Childhood diseases are infectious diseases that occur predominantly and typically in infants, toddlers and children. They are caused by viruses and bacteria, rarely also by other pathogens, and are usually transmitted via droplet infection (through saliva or nasal secretion when speaking, coughing or sneezing). The children often infect themselves in community facilities such as kindergarten or school. Childhood diseases can also occur in adults. However, this is rarely the case.
Frequent childhood diseases and their pathogens are:
- Measles (Morbilli): measles virus
- Mumps (parotitis epidemica, “goat mumps”): mumps virus
- Rubella: rubella virus
- Scarlet: Group A Streptococcus (Scarlet bacteria)
- chickenpox (varicella): varicella zoster virus
- Diphtheria: Corynebacterium diphtheriae (diphtheria bacteria)
- whooping cough (pertussis): Bordetella pertussis (pertussis bacteria)
Complaints: What are the symptoms of childhood diseases?
Childhood diseases are usually manifested by typical symptoms. Depending on the disease, after a short incubation period (time between infection and onset of the disease) general complaints such as headaches, aching limbs and abdominal pain, coughing, cold (rhinitis) and fever as well as a characteristic skin rash occur.
Typical symptoms of the individual childhood diseases are:
- Measles: Dark red, large-spotted, irregularly limited skin rash that begins behind the ears and spreads over the entire body, as well as so-called Koplik spots (white, splash-like spots in the cheek mucosa).
- Mumps: Painful swelling of the parotid gland, “hamster cheeks”, danger of meningitis and orchitis.
- Rubella: Small patchy skin rash that starts behind the ears and spreads across the face and neck to the entire body; enlarged, painful lymph nodes in the neck and behind the ears; frequent conjunctivitis and enlarged spleen.
- Scarlet fever: High fever, tonsillitis, red tongue (“raspberry tongue”), skin rash beginning in the groin and spreading throughout the body except around the mouth (“perioral cavity”).
- Chickenpox (varicella): blister-like skin rash as well as small, round, red spots over the trunk, head, face, arms and legs, often different forms of rash at the same time (starry sky) and severe itching.
- Diphtheria: Depending on the spread, pharyngeal and almond diphtheria, nasal diphtheria, laryngeal diphtheria, skin diphtheria: among others with sore throat, difficulty swallowing, tonsillitis, pharyngitis, hoarseness and swelling of the lymph nodes
- Whooping cough (pertussis): First symptoms similar to influenza with cough, cold, fever, then seizure-like coughing attacks (staccatocough).
Diagnosis: How are childhood diseases diagnosed?
Children’s diseases can usually already be recognised on the basis of their typical symptoms. Especially if other children from the immediate vicinity (for example in kindergarten or at school) are also ill, the suspicion of an infectious childhood disease such as measles, mumps, rubella, scarlet fever, chickenpox, diphtheria or whooping cough is obvious.
The pediatrician will perform a thorough physical examination to confirm the diagnosis, paying particular attention to a possible typical skin rash and enlarged lymph nodes. Further diagnostics, such as blood tests and smears (e.g. from the cheek mucosa), may be useful to determine the child’s disease.
Treatment: How can children’s diseases be treated?
Most childhood diseases are treated symptomatically, not causally. Physical rest, measures against complaints such as fever, headaches and coughs, as well as cooling compresses for itchy skin rash support the healing process and help the child to recover. The paediatrician advises the parents as to which medications are suitable and in what dosage the child should take them. Scarlet fever, a childhood disease caused by bacteria, is treated with antibiotics (penicillin). These are prescribed by the paediatrician.
Prognosis: What is the prognosis of childhood diseases?
Most childhood illnesses occur in children without complications, so that they are completely healthy again after a few days. Frequently, after a single illness, a lifelong immunity results, i.e. one does not fall ill a second time with the respective childhood illness. In some cases, however, complications can occur, for example secondary diseases such as meningitis or orchitis. In diphtheria, severe courses are often observed, which is why preventive vaccination is particularly important.
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Prevention: How can childhood diseases be prevented?
First of all, it is important to avoid contact with sick children – if possible. If a child suffers from a childhood disease such as measles, mumps, rubella or chickenpox, he or she should not go to kindergarten or school during this time in order not to infect other children. A vaccination against many childhood diseases is also available. The Standing Vaccination Commission (STIKO) at the Robert Koch Institute recommends regular vaccinations.
Furthermore, STIKO recommends measles vaccination for adults born after 1970 if no vaccination is available, if the vaccination status is unknown or if the vaccination was carried out several years ago. This vaccination is usually carried out with a combined measles-mumps-rubella vaccine. In addition, women of childbearing age should have their vaccination status checked for rubella – rubella infection during pregnancy can lead to abnormal development of the unborn child. The costs of many of these vaccinations, for example against measles, mumps and rubella, are covered by statutory health insurance.
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