4 childhood summer illnesses to look out for

Sister Lilian offers advice to prevent and treat health problems that pop up during summer.


It’s summer sunshine, thunder showers and long warm days in South Africa once again. Mostly we feel and are healthier during summer, with glowing cheeks, tanned skin, lighter, healthier meals and more physical activity. And yet, this season brings its own set of special health challenges.

We look at 4 common summer illnesses and how to treat them:


Impetigo is a rather common contagious infection of the skin caused by two bacteria – Group A Streptococcus and Staphylococcus Aureus. Smaller children are more prone and summer is the season when most infections occur. This condition is often confused with fever blisters or cold sores. Impetigo sores are more likely to occur around the mouth than on the lips themselves.

Unlike so many other childhood infections, including fever blisters, this is not a viral condition. It is quite acute but also easily treated. Impetigo can appear anywhere else on the body as well, and sores are often found on the hands and forearms. For this reason, impetigo is often confused with hand, foot and mouth disease. This infection often piggybacks on other skin rashes or irritation areas.

ALSO SEE: Common baby skin conditions

Signs and symptoms

  • If caused by Group A Streptococcus, impetigo starts as small blisters that form around the mouth and nasal area and close to the ears, and soon exude a sticky yellow-brown fluid which forms crusts.
  • The surrounding skin may become inflamed and red. If blisters are large and contain clear fluid that in time becomes cloudy and don’t easily leak, Staphylococcus is likely to be the bacteria that caused the infection.
  • The condition spreads rapidly if your child’s resistance is low and if nothing is done to contain the infection.
  • Impetigo is very itchy, and scratching is what usually causes the blisters and sores to spread so quickly. Others can be infected by direct contact with blisters and sores, or by using towels and bedding used by the infected child.
  • Children mostly do not feel very ill, although they will be extremely irritable from the itching. They can become feverish occasionally, especially if the infection is not contained.

How do you treat it?

This is not an easy condition to treat with natural remedies, but the sooner you start treatment the more likely it is that it won’t spread and require antibiotic treatment. If in the initial stages a doctor will prescribe an antibiotic ointment, and if spreading, oral antibiotics will be added.

  • Keep the affected area very clean, preferably using calendula disinfecting soap.
  • Apply tea tree oil to sores and blisters.
  • Apply homeopathic healing ointment or powders to seeping areas to dry and promote healing.
  • As for all blistering conditions, administer the mineral tissue salt Nat mur hourly until the condition improves.
  • Keep your child’s hands as clean as possible and the nails trimmed and scrubbed.
  • Discourage nose-picking and touching of the affected area by distracting your child rather than forbidding the habit.
  • Encourage your child to soak in a warm bath daily to soften crusts, although you should not try to remove them completely.
  • Wash your child’s clothing and other linen separately, at a high temperature.

If the area around sores and blisters looks swollen and red and feels unnaturally warm, see the doctor as soon as possible, as deeper skin infections might occur.

Hand, foot and mouth disease

This disease is an infection caused by the Coxsackie A and Enterovirus 71, found in the intestines. Outbreaks often occur in crèches. There are a wide range of symptoms, although infection is mostly not serious. Symptoms can, however, worry your child for up to four weeks, especially in the mouth. The incubation period is between three and seven days, so you’ll know quite soon if your child has succumbed after contact with an infected child. It is highly contagious and occurs in epidemics, mostly during summer and stretching into the warm autumn months, but once children have had it, lifelong immunity is usually insured. The incubation period is between three and five days.

Signs and symptoms

  • Initially your child may seem unwell with a sore throat, tiredness and irritability.
  • Symptoms then change to a mild fever and blisters on the inside of the mouth, which sometimes ulcerate and consequently make eating difficult and painful.
  • Headache and vomiting may also be part of the condition.
  • After a day or two, blisters develop on the upper surfaces of the hands and feet. These mostly do not appear painful or itchy and disappear within three or four days, as does the fever.
  • A body rash that does not itch sometimes occurs.
  • Sores or blisters may be present on the buttocks of small children and babies, and diarrhoea is fairly common.

How do you treat it?

Hand, foot and mouth disease spreads through contact with body fluids such as saliva, mucus and stools. There is no real medical treatment other than supportive measures to deal with pain in the mouth, like dosing with paracetamol. Very occasionally secondary complications occur, for example encephalitis or meningitis. If your child does not seem to improve within a week, do see the doctor.

  • The homeopathic remedy Odon will help prevent and treat any ulceration in the mouth.
  • Give homeopathic remedies to support the immune system in keeping the outbreak mild.
  • The tissue salt remedies Nat mur and Ferrum phos will help treat the blisters and any burning inflammation in the mouth, respectively.
  • Apply homeopathic healing ointment to the hand and foot blisters if they seem to worry your child or to prevent them from spreading.
  • Keep up liquid intake of bland, non-acidic beverages and thin soups, but do not insist that your child eats, as this condition is painful.

ALSO SEE: Is my child too sick for school?


Malaria is a condition in which the Pasmodium parasite is contracted from the bite of infected mosquitoes. The parasite multiplies in the liver and then attacks the red blood cells of the unwilling host. Malaria is one of the most prolific killer diseases known to mankind, although prevention and treatment (if diagnosed in time) are quite possible. There are a number of kinds of malaria, the deadliest one being cerebral malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum.

ALSO SEE: Everything you need to know about malaria

Malaria is endemic to some areas, with fairly consistent numbers of people affected throughout the year, while other areas are mostly high-risk during the hot, summer rainy season. Those living in endemic areas, or with regular exposure, often develop a certain level of immunity to malaria, but those unused to exposure are at particular risk, as are those with poor immunity.

Signs and symptoms

  • Fever, headache and vomiting that appear 10  to 15 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

All pregnant women should avoid travelling to malaria areas, as most medication is contra-indicated during pregnancy. The same goes for pre-school children – they should not be exposed to the possibility of catching the disease. If a pregnant woman contracts malaria, it mostly has devastating effects. If you decide to visit a malaria area, consult a travel clinic for the best protection possible and to find out about the safest time to be there – generally during winter after the coldest weather has started. Breastfed infants obtain some protection from the mother’s preventative medication, which is a special one, as she too cannot take all the prophylactic medication that is available.

Tips to prevent catching malaria

  • Long clothing that covers the whole body helps prevent many a bite.
  • Mosquito nets for cots and beds are an excellent way of ensuring nap and night protection from bites.
  • Most mosquito or insect repellants are very effective but do have a degree of toxicity. For this reason it is better to look into getting a high frequency mechanical device which repels insects but does not affect a small child or baby. The larger baby and hardware stores stock these.
  • Run a fan in the room for a little while before bedtime as mosquitoes hate a draught.
  • Citronella soap, oil and candles also help.

How do you treat it?

  • If your little one gets bitten, apply Calendula or homeopathic healing ointment to the bites for relief of itching and redness. This will not, however, prevent malaria.
  • If your child feels at all unwell after a visit to a malaria area, whether or not medication was given or other precautions taken, have a blood test done as soon as possible. If negative, a repeat test should be done.


More correctly called Schistosomiasis, this is a parasitic disease mostly found in tropical areas. It is quite prevalent along South Africa’s eastern coast and immediately inland, though Asia and South America also have a high incidence. Bilharzia was named after a doctor called Theodor Bilharz, who identified the urinary symptoms of a strain of the condition. Worm larvae develop in fresh water snails and infect humans through the skin, passing to small veins that carry blood from the intestines to the liver. Here they complete their life cycle, living off red blood cells, sugars and amino acids.

Signs and symptoms

Stagnant water sources are most likely to be infected and children playing in these are at risk. Bilharzia frequently leads to chronic ill health and in children, is associated with impaired growth and below par mental development.

Other symptoms include: 

  • Diffuse abdominal pain
  • Diarrhoea
  • Fever
  • Chronic cough and enlargement of the liver and spleen, which become tender to the touch.

Despite the disease being prevalent in South Africa, it is often missed, as so many other possibilities spring to mind. The best confirmation of a diagnosis is an analysis of stools and urine for the worm larvae (eggs). If you find your child is listless, not thriving and no obvious cause is found, you should suggest to your practitioner to check for bilharzia, especially if you have visited areas where your children might have swum or played in rivers or other suspect water sources.


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