How to Prevent Childhood Infections

It's always been tough being a kid, but for those who pick up one of the contagious pestilences often found in preschool or day-care settings, it can be a real pain. But the good news is that few of the viruses, fungi, and microscopic critters that plague youngsters leave the body with serious damage or aftereffects. In this article, we'll take a look at fifth disease, hand-foot-and-mouth disease, head lice, pinworms, ringworm, and roseola. Here's a quick preview:

  • Preventing Fifth DiseaseFifth disease is actually a mild infection, not a disease. It's caused by parvovirus B19. Fifth disease got its name because it's one of five childhood illnesses that were common in the prevaccination era. Fifth disease sufferers usually have coldlike symptoms that are followed by a bright red rash. There's no vaccination for this infection, but the good news is that most people recover from it quickly and without complications.
  • Preventing Hand-Foot-and-Mouth DiseaseHand-foot-and-mouth disease (or HFMD) is a highly contagious infection, but its symptoms are relatively mild. It can cause a skin rash or blisters in the mouth and on the hands and feet, but most people recover from this infection in seven to ten days without treatment. Because HFMD is so contagious, it's best to avoid contact with infected people and to be vigilant about personal hygiene.
  • Preventing Head LiceHead lice can spread rapidly through a group of children, whether at school, in a play group, or at a slumber party. Once a child is infected (or an adult, for that matter), the hard work of eradicating the infestation begins. Shampoos are available to eliminate head lice, and you'll need to comb through the infested hair with a fine tooth comb to search for nits.
  • Preventing PinwormsPinworm infections are unpleasant, but they are easy to treat. Pinworms, small white worms that live in the infected person's rectum, are the most common type of roundworm infestations in the United States. Pinworms are treated with chewable tablets dosed two weeks apart, but you'll also need to make sure you clean vigorously to keep other family members from picking up the infection.
  • Preventing RingwormRingworm is a fungal infection, not an actual worm, that causes red blotches on an infected person's skin. Ringworm is spread through contact with infected animals or people and through objects or soil that harbor the fungus. This infection is easily treated with oral or topical antifungal medicines.
  • Preventing RoseolaRoseola most commonly affects children younger than 2 years old. It causes a very high, sudden fever, followed by a pink rash. Roseola generally runs its course without medical intervention. There's no vaccine for roseola -- you'll have to rely on good hygiene to keep it away.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

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Preventing Fifth Disease

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Fifth disease, a mild parvovirus infection, most often strikes young children.

Fifth disease is not actually a disease, but rather an infection of parvovirus B19. The name is derived from the fact that the virus is associated with one of five rash infections common in childhood.

Fifth Disease Infection Information

Despite being called a "disease," fifth disease is actually, in most cases, a mild infection caused by parvovirus B19. This is not the same parvovirus that affects dogs and cats, and it cannot be passed from animals to people or vice versa. The numerical name comes from the fact that fifth disease was among the five rash-associated infections of childhood that were common in the prevaccination era: measles; scarlet fever; rubella; Dukes' disease (also called Filatov-Dukes disease, scarlatinella, and fourth disease), a rash-producing infection not seen today; and fifth disease.

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Most people recover from fifth disease quickly without complications. The infection begins with a headache, coldlike symptoms, and a low-grade fever. These symptoms pass within seven to ten days, only to be followed a few days later by the appearance of a bright red rash. However, by the time the rash appears, the infection is no longer contagious.

The rash usually begins on the face, making at least one cheek look like it has been slapped, and spreads in the form of lighter-red blotches to other parts of the body, especially the forearms. Sunlight, heat, exercise, and stress may reactivate the rash until it is completely gone, which typically takes about three weeks. For adults and older teenagers, an attack of fifth disease may create pain or joint swelling in the hands, wrists, knees, or ankles. Parvovirus infection can be worse and more prolonged in adults who have compromised immune systems.

Pregnant women who are not immune to parvovirus B19 should avoid contact with those who are infected because the infection can affect their developing children. Although fifth disease isn't known to cause birth defects, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) says the risk of fetal death in infected mothers is as high as 10 percent because the virus slows down production of red blood cells.

Remember, by the time the rash develops, fifth disease is no longer infectious. Pregnant women who work in places where parvovirus B19 is more likely to be present, such as elementary schools, should be aware if they are susceptible and consult a physician if an outbreak occurs.

Who's at Risk for Fifth Disease?

Any nonimmune person can become infected with fifth disease, but it most often strikes children between the ages of 5 and 15. The distinctive rash is more apparent in children younger than 10.

The AAFP also reports most cases of infection occur in late winter and spring and that it is most easily spread among schoolmates and children in day-care centers. Infection among family members is the second-most common way it gets around.

Defensive Measures Against Fifth Disease

There is no vaccine to prevent this infection, but according to the AAFP, studies show that by the age of 15 most people have developed antibodies and are immune, even if they have never shown any detectable symptoms.

Frequent hand washing is a practical and effective method to reduce the spread of this and other viruses. In addition, don't share drinking glasses and utensils, and cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing.

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is a highly contagious infection that causes blisters and a rash, and some infected people may be at risk for developing viral meningitis. Go to the next page to learn about preventing and treating this illness.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Preventing Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Infants and toddlers infected with hand-foot-and-mouth-disease can be irritable.

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease (HFMD) is usually caused by coxsackievirus A16 (named after Coxsackie, New York, where it was first found), a virus that is part of the enterovirus group. Other enteroviruses might lead to HFMD, as well.

Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease Infection Information

HFMD is a mild, but highly contagious, infection that starts with a sore throat, low-grade fever, headache, and loss of appetite (infants and toddlers with HFMD can be irritable). The infection is spread through direct contact with the saliva, mucus, blister fluid, or feces of infected people. Within one or two days, sores develop on the tongue, gums, and inside of the cheeks.

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Likewise, a skin rash of red spots or blisters may appear on the palms of the hands, fingers (especially on the sides), soles of the feet, and, sometimes, buttocks. HFMD is not the same as foot-and-mouth disease (also called hoof-and-mouth disease), which is found in cattle, sheep, pigs, and other animals.

The majority of HFMD cases are minor, and most people recover in seven to ten days without medical treatment. However, dehydration is common because the sores in the mouth can make swallowing difficult. In rare cases, someone infected with HFMD can also develop viral meningitis (inflammation of the membranes and fluid that surround the brain and spinal cord) or other serious diseases, such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and a poliolike illness that causes paralysis. Serious outbreaks of this infection have occurred in Southeast Asia over the past few years.

Who's at Risk for Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease?

HFMD occurs primarily in children younger than 10, including infants, but anyone can contract it. Pregnant women should be especially wary of this disease. Infection at the time of delivery can, in rare cases, cause life-threatening illnesses in a newborn.

Defensive Measures Against Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease

There is no vaccine to prevent HFMD, but standard preventive measures can help. Don't share eating utensils or drinking glasses, avoid close contact with infected people, don't touch blisters or lesions, wash your hands thoroughly and often, cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, wash and disinfect toys and common surfaces, and keep children who have a fever or open sores away from child-care settings.

Head lice can spread like wildfire among children and can cause itching and small red sores. Go to the next page to learn about preventing and eradicating these persistent vermin.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Preventing Head Lice

Anyone can be infested by head lice, but children between 3 and 12 are the most common targets.

The head louse (Pediculus humanus capitis) is a tiny wingless parasitic insect that lives among human hairs and feeds on small amounts of blood drawn from the scalp.

Head Lice Information

Lice lay their eggs (called nits) close to the scalp on individual hair shafts. When the nits hatch, they release nymphs, which resemble adult lice but are smaller. Nymphs are white and look a bit like dandruff, but they can't be removed by brushing the hair. Once the lice are fully grown adults, they become brown or yellow and are more difficult to spot. Lice bites can itch and might cause small red sores that can lead to bacterial infections. Some people who are infected with lice may have swollen lymph glands.

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Lice spread easily and quickly among children, especially when kids are in group settings, such as playgrounds, camps, child-care facilities, and slumber parties. Medicated lice shampoos, which kill the insects and their eggs, are recommended for everyone older than 2 years of age with head lice.

If you're caring for a child younger than 2, you will need to remove the nits by hand. Some medicated shampoos are not recommended for breast-feeding mothers or for people who weigh less than 110 pounds, so be sure to get your physician's advice before starting a regimen. No matter how you get rid of the insects, it may take a few days for the itching to stop.

Who's at Risk for Head Lice?

Although anyone can be infected with head lice, children between the ages of 3 and 12 are most at risk. According to findings published in the Journal of Pediatric Health Care, girls are more affected than boys because they are more likely to have close head contact and share hair accessories. Because of their hair type, African-Americans are rarely affected by head lice.

Defensive Measures Against Head Lice

At best, lice don't seem to spread disease; at worst, they are contagious and cause uncomfortable itching. Lice can survive up to 72 hours when away from their food source (your scalp), so you need to kill the ones that haven't made their way into someone's hair. If lice have infested someone in your family, wash all bed linens, towels, and clothing in very hot water and dry them on high heat for at least 20 minutes. Store everything else -- pillows, stuffed toys, and similar unwashable items -- in airtight bags for two weeks to suffocate and destroy the lice.

After using a medicated shampoo, you can do the following to help prevent a reinfestation:

  • For two weeks after treatment, literally go through hair with a fine-tooth comb after shampooing. Lice are immobilized and easier to spot and remove when hair is wet.
  • Gather all hair accessories, brushes, and combs and wash them in hot water, soak them in medicated shampoo or rubbing alcohol, or just get rid of them.
  • Vacuum all your furniture, carpets, and vehicles. When you are finished, remove the vacuum bag and place it in an airtight container or bag to dispose of it.
  • Keep personal care items personal. Remind your children not to share hats, scarves, helmets, combs, brushes, and other items.
  • Avoid bedding, pillows, and carpets if someone who has lice has been on them.

Pinworms, although common and uncomfortable, are easily treated. Keep reading to learn about this roundworm infestation.This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Preventing Pinworms

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Encourage good personal hygiene habits in your children to ward off pinworm infestations.

Pinworms (Enterobius vermicularis) are small white worms that live in a host's rectum. The hardest part of treating pinworms may be actually finding them. After that, they are easily dispensed with a little medication.

Pinworms Infection Information

Pinworm infections are the most common type of roundworm (parasitic worms) infections in the United States, but they are easily treated. These parasites are easy to acquire -- people most often pick them up by unknowingly ingesting pinworm eggs.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pinworm eggs can survive on inanimate surfaces for up to two weeks. The eggs get into the body when someone picks them up from infested surfaces, such as toilets, bath fixtures, countertops, clothing, food, toys, and drinking glasses or utensils, and then touches his or her mouth. After a few weeks, mature female worms move from the intestine to the area around the anus where they lay their eggs.

Pinworm-infection symptoms include difficulty sleeping, frequent wiggling or irritability, and an itchy bottom. The persistent itching is caused by the female pinworm when she comes out of the rectum to lay eggs around the child's anus. When the child scratches the itchy area, the minuscule eggs can get under fingernails and are then easily spread around a home, school, or play area. In rare instances, adults have become infected as they remove or shake bed linens and inhale the eggs.

If you suspect a pinworm infection, look for the little parasites at night, when they lay their eggs. You can sometimes see the worms, which are typically a half-inch long or smaller, around the child's anus or in the bowel movements.

Pinworms can be treated with mebendazole (Vermox), which is packaged in chewable tablets. The tablets are given in two doses two weeks apart. Other medicines, such as pyrantel (Pin-X, Ascarel), are available in liquid or capsule form and are also taken in two doses, two weeks apart.

Who's at Risk for Pinworms?

People of any age are at risk, but school-age children and preschool-age children are most susceptible to pinworm infections.

Defensive Measures Against Pinworms

To prevent the spread of pinworms, everyone in a household where someone is infected should be treated with pinworm medicine. In addition, pinworm prevention should include:

  • Washing hands before a meal and after using the bathroom
  • Washing hands after changing diapers or helping toddlers wipe after bowel movements
  • Keeping fingernails short and trimming them often
  • Discouraging nail-biting
  • Refraining from scratching the anal area
  • Changing into clean, freshly washed underwear each day

If you do get infected, you should use freshly laundered bedclothes and bedding each night; bathe each morning to reduce egg contamination; and open bedroom curtains, blinds, and windows during the day because pinworm eggs are sensitive to sunlight.Ringworm is a fungal infection that causes red blotches on the skin -- an antifungal cream can be used to treat most cases. Go to the next page to learn more about this skin infection. This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Preventing Ringworm

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Usually an oral antifungal treatment is all  that is required to clear up ringworm.

Despite its name, ringworm is not an infestation by a worm but a fungal infection of the skin. Different fungi cause ringworm on different parts of the body: Tinea capitis (scalp), Tinea corporis (body), Tinea cruris (groin), Tinea pedis (feet), and Tinea unguium (nails). These are dermatophytes -- fungi that cause infections of the skin, hair, and nails.

Ringworm Infection Information

Ringworm usually appears as red blotches that slowly grow larger, then become itchy and clear in the middle, thus eventually looking like rings. The infection spreads through close contact with infected people or animals; through objects, such as floors, that harbor the fungus; and, rarely, through the soil.

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Although testing is not usually necessary, a fungal culture can confirm a ringworm diagnosis. If ringworm is on the scalp, it can cause bald spots. An infection here typically requires oral antifungal medication for an extended period of time, usually six to eight weeks. Ringworm on the nails also requires oral medication, often for several months. Ringworm on other parts of the body is more easily treated -- an antifungal cream will clear up the infection in two to four weeks.

Who's at Risk for Ringworm?

Anyone can develop ringworm, but young children, people who are in close contact with infected individuals or animals, and people with poor hygiene habits are most susceptible.

Defensive Measures Against Ringworm

Ringworm can be contagious even before symptoms appear, which makes it difficult to avoid. However, you can take a few simple measures to prevent the spread of ringworm, including:

  • ">Treating infected people and pets promptly
  • Avoiding contact with infected people and animals
  • Not sharing personal items, including hairbrushes, clothing, towels, and shoes
  • Keeping common areas clean and disinfected
  • Bathing daily
  • Washing hands frequently
  • Laundering an infected person's clothing and linens in hot water

Roseola, which causes a high fever and a pink rash, most commonly affects children younger than 2 years old. Go to the next page to learn about treating and preventing roseola.This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Preventing Roseola

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Roseola starts out with a fast-rising fever, which can trigger febrile seizures in some children.

Roseola is caused by two similar strains of human herpesvirus (HHV), HHV-6 (the usual cause) and HHV-7, that are spread through secretions from the nose and throat. These are not the same strains of herpesvirus that cause herpes in the mouth or genital areas.

Roseola Infection Information

Roseola begins with coldlike symptoms, which are followed by as many as seven days of high fever. The fever rises quickly, remains high, and then breaks abruptly. This fast-rising fever triggers convulsions called febrile seizures in 10 percent to 15 percent of children who contract roseola.

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As the fever breaks, a pink rash appears on the torso and spreads to other parts of the body, including the neck, face, arms, and legs. Spots caused by roseola turn white when touched and may have a lighter-colored ring around them. Roseola typically does not require professional treatment -- the virus must simply run its course. However, you should speak with your child's pediatrician about over-the-counter medications to manage the fever and/or if you are unsure that roseola is the cause.

Who's at Risk for Roseola?

Young children, primarily those between the ages of 6 months and 2 years, are most at risk. Adults are rarely affected; it is believed that a childhood case of roseola provides lifelong immunity, although repeat cases have been known to occur.

Defensive Measures Against Roseola

Roseola is difficult to prevent because infected people who are not yet exhibiting symptoms often spread the virus; by the time a roseola rash is present, the contagious stage has passed. There is no vaccine to prevent the spread of roseola; however, the basic principles of preventing any viral infection apply, including washing hands thoroughly and often and avoiding exposure to those who are infected.

Children get sick -- it's almost impossible to avoid. However, most infections, for children and adults alike, can be avoided by observing good hygiene practices. Use the tips in this article to help keep your family healthy all year round.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Laurie L. Dove is an award-winning Kansas-based journalist and author whose work has been published internationally. A dedicated consumer advocate, Dove specializes in writing about health, parenting, fitness, and travel. An active member of the National Federation of Press Women, Dove also is the former owner of a parenting magazine and a weekly newspaper.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.