Common childhood infections

As soon as your child ventures out into the big bad world, whether to crèche, playschool or on a play date, he’s at risk of picking up all sorts of common infections. Here’s what to look out for and how to treat them. By Lynne Gidish

No matter how much you try to boost your little one’s immunity by ensuring that he eats healthily and takes both probiotics and multivitamins, when he’s exposed to others who have these bugs, he can still get sick. So it’s a good idea to know what you’re dealing with, how to treat it, and when to seek medical help.

Diarrhoea

Causes and symptoms:

The causes are mostly viral, but sometimes bacteria or parasites are the culprits. Symptoms include a ‘runny tummy’, vomiting, fever, and tummy cramps.

Medical treatment:

Keep your child well-hydrated by giving him an oral rehydration solution (ask your pharmacist) and lots of other fluids. Zinc, probiotic, and specific anti-diarrhoea medications such as Tasectan and Smecta are both safe to use in children over six months.

Natural approach:

Watch what your child eats. Avoid milk, wheat, roughage and sugar products, and stick to oats cooked in water, with grated apple, as well as mashed banana, steamed veggies and rice or millet. Weak camomile tea is a good mainstay. It soothes the gut and relieves inflammation and pain. Arsenicum album and Belladonna also work well.

SOS Action:

Keep your child at home until he’s symptom-free.

Seek professional help if:
The diarrhoea continues for longer than 48 hours, if your child isn’t drinking, or if he vomits up everything he drinks, as he can become dehydrated very quickly.

Gastro Enteritis

Causes and symptoms:

Gastroenteritis is an infection of the gut, usually caused by a virus. It may also cause vomiting and abdominal pain.

Medical treatment:

Essentially the same as with diarrhoea, and antibiotics are seldom necessary.

Natural approach:

Same as for diarrhoea, but your natural health practitioner can also advise you about other specific remedies.

SOS Action:

Keep your child at home until he’s completely better.

Seek professional help if:

Your child is still not well within 48 hours; if there’s blood in the stool, a high fever, lethargy, or any sign of dehydration: fewer wet nappies, less urine output, or a sunken ‘soft spot’ (the fontanel on top of his head).

The Common Cold

Causes and symptoms:

Colds tend to be mild, with low-grade fever, runny nose, coughing, sore throat, watery eyes and swollen glands. They’re caused by a viral infection – usually the rhinoviruses – via airborne droplets and contact.

Medical treatment:

Treatment is supportive: rest, lots of fluids, paracetamol and ibuprofen for fever, saline nose sprays, and paediatric cough syrups for cough.

Natural approach:

Essential oils like eucalyptus, pine, peppermint, cedar wood, rosemary, niaouli, basil, cloves, and thyme. Tea tree and Lemon are all very useful to relieve congestion, inflammation, mucus and breathing difficulties. Rub it onto the chest, the sinus areas and nose, or use as inhalers with steam. Herbs and vitamins are helpful, too, especially Echinacea, astragalus, vitamin C and zinc, while your natural healthcare practitioner will advise about specific remedies like aconite, belladonna and alliums cepa.

SOS Action:

Keep your child at home if his nose is streaming with yellow or green mucus, and definitely if he has a fever.

Seek professional help if:

The cold doesn’t clear up within a few days or if symptoms worsen or change.

Flu

Causes and symptoms:

Flu is also a viral infection with symptoms the same as a common cold, but they develop far more rapidly and are generally far worse and last a lot longer. Aside from developing cold symptoms, your little one may also have body aches, joint pains, headache, diarrhoea, vomiting and a high fever, which is very dangerous in young children.

Medical treatment:

Symptomatic, the same as for the common cold. It’s vital to bring down the fever (which will make your child miserable), so alternate with paracetamol and ibuprofen every six hours.

Natural approach:

Aside from alleviating symptoms in the same way as a cold (see above), there are a number of homeopathic remedies, such as eupatorium and ferrum phosphoricum, or tissue salt no 4, that will help your child. Chat to your natural healthcare practitioner about flu-specific homeopathic preparations that can be safely taken by the whole family (including young infants), such as oscillococcinum.

SOS Action:

Keep your child at home until he’s symptom-free and has been fever-free for 24 hours.

Seek professional help if:
He has a temperature over 39°, or a temperature under 39° that persist for three days, and if symptoms worsen or your child deteriorates, as he may have picked up a secondary infection leading to complications such as pneumonia.

Coughs

Causes and symptoms:

One of the most frequent childhood illnesses is a cough. Most are viral, although bacteria can also be the culprit. Coughs vary from barking to wheezing or whooping, in an attempt to clear the airway, so it’s important to determine the cause.

Medical treatment:

It’s essential that your child be thoroughly examined by a doctor to determine the most appropriate treatment. There are numerous cough syrups on the market, but if your child is over one year old, try soothing him with honey.

Natural approach:

This depends on the type of cough (dry, wet, tight, acute or chronic) in terms of management. Certain general cough syrups are effective for different types of coughs, e.g, Jutussin (for dry and wet) and Stodal (for all kinds). Your natural healthcare practitioner will be able to advise on specific cough remedies.

SOS Action:

Keep your child at home if the cough is accompanied by a fever or any flu symptoms, and if the mucus he’s coughing up is yellow or green.

Seek professional help if:

The cough persists for more than three days. If he’s still coughing one week later, it’s important to check for conditions such as allergies and asthma.

Ear infections

Causes and symptoms:

Ear infections may be either viral or bacterial, with symptoms like earache, fever, runny nose, discharge from the ear, vomiting, coughing, and feeling miserable.
He may pull or touch ears a lot.

Medical treatment:

Includes rest, plenty of fluids, decongestants like Iliadin, nose drops, and paracetamol or ibuprofen for pain and fever. Antibiotics are not always necessary, but consult your healthcare practitioner.

Natural approach:

You need to be very careful if you plan to go it alone. Your child’s eardrum can perforate and his hearing can be compromised, so rather consult your natural healthcare practitioner to determine the severity.
Ear infections can be successfully treated without antibiotics if they’re watched very closely, if they’re not too severe, and they’re treated with specific natural remedies like Apis, Belladonna and Hepar Sulph.

SOS Action:

Keep your child at home if he’s in pain or if there’s any inflammation or fever.

Seek professional help:

Right from start.

Lice

Causes and symptoms:

Head lice are the most common lice infestation in children. As these tiny white parasites are spread via personal contact as well as by sharing others’ belongings, this is particularly troublesome in crèches, playschools and schools, and can result in outbreaks. An itchy scalp is usually the presenting feature. You’ll often see lice or nits (the empty egg cases) in the hair, or the eggs tightly attached to the hair shaft. Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck are also often present.

Medical treatment:

Wash hair with a special shampoo like Nitagon and comb it through with a fine comb. It’s important to repeat this after a week.

Natural approach:

Prevention is truly the better option here, so use a leave-in conditioner when you wash your child’s hair once or twice a week that will not only moisturise his scalp, but will also ward off parasites (try EcoKid Daily Tonic Leave-in Conditioner, from R205). There are many different natural ways to treat lice, including specific essential oils to kill them off. Ask your healthcare practitioner for advice here. EcoKid also has a Lice Bomb product made from organically farmed ingredients that will effectively do the job, too.

SOS Action:

Keep your child at home until there are absolutely no nits visible in the hair, as this condition is extremely contagious!

Seek professional help if:

You can’t get rid of the lice.

Scabies

Causes and symptoms:

This infection is caused by an eight-legged mite known as sarcoptes scabeii, which burrows into the skin resulting in severe itching two – six weeks after infestation.
Itching is often worse at night and in warm weather.

Burrows can be seen between fingers and toes in older children, and on the palms and soles of babies, but can it be anywhere on the body.

Secondary infection from scratching is common. Infection is spread by close contact –typically spreads through prolonged skin-to-skin contact and shared personal items such as towels and naptime mats which is why family members of infected children must also be treated.

Medical Treatment:

Use a special body wash like Ascabiol or Skabi-rid and leave it on for 12 hours before washing it off.

Natural approach:

The homoeopathic remedy psorinum is specific for the treatment of scabies, but there are other remedies you can try, like sulphur and RhusTox.

SOS Action:

Keep your child at home until he’s completely clear.

Seek professional help if:

The condition persists or you’re unable to completely clear it up.

Warts

Causes and symptoms:

Warts are harmless growths caused by a virus. They can affect any area of the body, but tend to invade warm, moist places, like small cuts or scratches on the fingers, hands, and feet. Warts are usually painless unless they’re on the soles of the feet or parts of the body that gets constantly touched.

Medical treatment:

The common viral wart is usually found on hands and fingers. These often disappear and only need treatment (freezing with liquid nitrogen) if they become problematic. Molluscum contagiosum is a small pearl-like wart with a central white dimple that’s caused by a pox virus, and is very contagious. It can be successfully treated with liquid nitrogen or prescribed topical creams. They should be treated early, as they can spread very fast and become problematic.

Natural approach:

Possible remedies include dulcamara, causticum and thuja. However, since warts are caused by a virus, it’s important to treat the virus itself and not just the growth on the skin, as warts frequently grow back when the virus is not eliminated.

SOS Action:

Keeping your child at home is not necessary unless the wart is contagious.

Seek professional help if:

The wart becomes infected as a result of scratching or knocking it, or if you suspect it’s a molluscum contagiosum.

Ringworm

Causes and symptoms:

Ringworm is not a worm at all, but a tinea fungal infection that can occur anywhere on the body.

It tends to be itchy and uncomfortable and over time, may begin to look like a ring or a series of rings with raised, bumpy, scaly borders and a clear centre. It’s this ring pattern that gives it its name.

Medical treatment:

Ringworm is contagious, so it’s important to avoid touching the infected area.

It’s also possible to become infected from contact with pets such as cats and dogs. Prevent the spread by not sharing clothes or towels. An ant- fungal cream should be applied topically or, if severe, an oral anti- fungal.

Natural approach:

Homeopathically, the remedy Bacillinum is frequently prescribed, together with dietary changes. Try to eliminate sugar as it feeds fungal infections, and mushrooms, which are fungi themselves.

SOS Action:

Keep your child at home if this is the crèche or playschool’s policy. Once your child is on treatment, this should not be necessary.

Seek professional help if:

You notice that the ring is getting bigger and if there’s pain or pus, as this may mean that there’s a secondary infection.

Skin infections

Causes and symptoms:

The most common of these is impetigo, which is caused by a staphylococcal and/or streptococcal infection, and is very contagious. Symptoms include lesions on the face (especially around the mouth and nose), neck and limbs. Initially, you’ll notice small red pimples which then form blister-like sacs filled with yellow crusted fluid.

Medical treatment:

Infections can spread rapidly and need treatment with topical antibiotic creams and usually oral antibiotics. It’s also important to clear the nose with antibiotic ointment. Keep sores covered to prevent your child from scratching them, and wash his (and your) hands regularly, to prevent spreading the infection.

Natural approach:

There are various homeopathic remedies, such as Apis, belladonna and HeparSulph that will assist with the infection when taken orally, while calendula lotion or ointment can be applied topically.

SOS Action:

Keep your child at home until the impetigo lesions are dry.

Seek professional help if:

The area of inflammation gets bigger or if the surrounding lymph nodes become enlarged and tender. Remember that not every bump, cut and scratch will develop into a full-blown infection, but if the area is hot to the touch, inflamed and red, and certainly if pus is present, you need to consult your healthcare practitioner.

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease

Causes and symptoms:

This is a mild, very contagious viral infection that is common in young children and is caused by the Coxsackie B virus. It’s generally characterised just as its name indicates: with little blister-like sores around the mouth and rash on the hands and feet.
There’s often a fever for a few days, as well as a sore throat and irritability. The incubation period from when exposed to the virus is about three to six days, and then a fever develops, with the painful sores developing a day or two later.

Medical treatment:

This is symptomatic: ice lollies and chilled drinks to soothe a sore throat, and paracetemol or ibuprofen for fever and pain.

Natural approach:

Homeopathic treatment is individualised to each case, but remedies like borax, RhusTox and belladonna are frequently prescribed.

SOS Action:

Keep your child at home until the sores are fading, as the virus is very contagious.

Seek professional help if:

The sores in the mouth prevent your child from drinking.

Contributing experts

  • Dr Reinette Daniell, GP, KwaZulu Natal; www.113janhofmeyr.co.za
  • Dr Sheetal Daya, homeopathic practitioner, Gauteng, daya.sheetal@gmail.com
  • Dr Raoul Goldberg, integrative medical practitioner and Medical Director of the Syringa Integrative Health Centre in Cape Town; www.syringahealth.co.za
  • Dr Kathy Krige, paediatrician, Cape Town, www.thrivingkids.co.za
  • Dr Jaci Schultz, registered homoeopath and evidence-based integrative practitioner, Johannesburg.

*Originally published in February 2015

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