By Dr. Senaka Gunathilake
Consultant Paediatrician and Senior Lecturer
Faculty of Medicine
Sir John Kothalawela Defense University
We protect our children with utmost care yet despite our best efforts sometimes our children may fall victim to infectious diseases. Thus parents should be knowledgeable on how to care for their children in such situations. This article hopes to draw attention to a few common communicable diseases in childhood.
Mumps is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus. The incubation period is around 14 – 18 days and it lasts for about 10 days.
Most often this disease would get better without any major complications yet rarely may lead to meningitis, encephalitis or even deafness. Yet the MMR vaccine which is included in the national Extended Programme for Immunization (EPI) schedule decreases the risk of getting this disease by 80%.
Early symptoms of mumps
o First symptom is fever
o Body aches
o Muscle pain
o Pain and swelling in the right jaw area just below the ear (The pain might sometimes follow the swelling)
In some children the only symptoms might be fever and a mild pain which subsides gradually.
o When severe there will be high fever and swelling of both cheeks with severe headache
o In some children both cheeks don’t swell at the same time. They may only experience swelling on one side or the other side may swell once the initial swelling on the first side subsides.
Even a few days before the symptoms of mumps appear, even before the onset of fever a person is infectious and releases the virus to the environment and continues to do so even after the appearance of symptoms.
o Mumps is an infection of the salivary glands. One day after the appearance of the initial symptoms there is swelling of the parotid gland on one or both sides.
o In about 10% there’s swelling of the other salivary glands as well. The swelling and fever subsides after roughly one week
o There are usually no symptoms or signs in children less than 2 years.
o A person is infectious from 2 days before till about 9 days after the onset of fever.
o Following a single infection of mumps a person gets lifelong immunity against the disease.
o There is no specific treatment for mumps.
o Adequate rest is very important and paracetamol in correct doses can be given for fever.
o A normal diet with the addition of as much sour food as possible should be given.
Important – There is a vaccine against Mumps which can be taken as a single injection or as a combination of Measeles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR).
Chicken pox is an infection seen in the young and the old though it is common in the under 12 age group. Though caused by a virus traditional beliefs categorize it as an illness caused by divine interference. Chicken pox doesn’t need special treatment and has the ability to heal on its own yet the varicella vaccine greatly reduces the risk of contracting the disease.
o The first symptom is the onset of fever
o Blisters only appear around the second day of fever especially on the face, shoulders and abdomen.
o On day two blisters appear on the central part of the trunk. Initially they are clear but later become yellowish and pustular. These blisters may burst and the surrounding skin becomes reddish.
o On day three there is fever accompanied by blistering over the whole body.
o Some children may experience itching and the appearance of blisters may continue up to one week.
o After one week the appearance of new blisters stops.
o Next there is drying up of the blisters.
o When appearance of new blisters stops it is advisable to bathe the child daily for 7 days which reduces spread of the infection to another person.
o If you want to stop the disease from becoming severe drugs have to be taken as soon as chicken pox is identified, ideally within the first 72 hours.
o Fluid intake and cooling foods should be taken by patients.
Important – Medication is not compulsory in chicken pox but if required preparations are available in the market.
Measles is an infectious disease also caused by a virus only seen in humans. This virus proliferates in the back of the throat and the cells lining the lungs. This virus has the ability to spread very fast and a healthy person is infected by droplets from a sick individual. Close contact with a sick person is a risk for infection.
o There is watery discharge from the nose and sneezing which may precede the onset of fever by a couple of days or appear simultaneously.
o Next there is a cough which accompanies the fever,
o On day three or four there is appearance of the rash all over the body. There may be tiny red blisters on the cheek which start behind the ear and then spread to the face and the rest of the body.
o The primary symptom is fever accompanied by a severe cough.
o There might be a redness around the neck and a reddish tongue with some swelling around the eyes.
Why does a child with measles need special care?
The immunity within the body is reduced when infected with measles. This makes the child more prone to secondary infections like ear infections, diarrhoea and pneumonia.
Pink eye is a commonly seen from time to time. Despite mild differences the symptoms are usually unchanged. Cleanliness and maintaining personal hygiene is paramount in preventing the spread of the infection to other people.
Natural course of the disease
o Before the onset of the infection there is grittiness in one eye which is followed by tearing.
o Next there is redness, increased tears and a thick whitish discharge.
o On awakening in the morning the eyelids maybe glued together due to the whitish discharge, there might be pain, grittiness and mild fever, difficulty looking at bright lights and swelling of the eyelids.
o There is no effect on the vision.
1. Avoid touching ones’ eyes in public places.
2. Do not have close contact with people with suspected pink eye.
3. Do not share pillows, bed linen or towels with an affected person.
4. Ensure your personal hygiene.
5. Bathe daily.
6. If infected do not send your child to school for 5 – 7 days.
As this is a viral infection it doesn’t require special treatment. The infection naturally subsides in a few days.
Important – If it does not get better in one week visit an eye clinic and get the eyes checked.
An article submitted by the Waidyawaraya Magazine