Common Childhood Illnesses in Shanghai

It’s worrisome enough when your child is sick, but having to deal with a sick child in a foreign country is even more daunting. Dr Chen Demei, Pediatrician and Chief Physician at Shanghai Renai Hospital International Department, explains some of the more common childhood diseases so parents are well-prepared if they ever encounter any of these issues in their family:

Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD)
HFMD is a viral infection that is a common illness, which usually affects infants and young children below the age of five. The symptoms of HFMD include fever, mouth sores, a skin rash, and small blisters on the hands, feet, and diaper area. It has an incubation period of three to five days, but can range from two days to two weeks.

HFMD is quite contagious, and can spread from person to person by direct contact through the fluid from the rash of an infected person. Complications include severe ulcers in the mouth, which can be painful and interfere with the intake of food and drink, resulting in dehydration, persistent vomiting or diarrhea and reduced fluid intake. “Preventative measures include avoiding crowded places, paying attention to hygiene of the hands, feet, and mouth, and having a balanced diet. We recommend symptomatic treatment over antiviral therapy,” says Dr Chen.

Though rare, complications such as brain, lung, or heart infections can occur, which is caused by enterovirus 71 (EV71), and it can be fatal. The EV71 vaccination is available to prevent infants or children from contracting HFMD, but it’s advised to take your child to see a doctor if you suspect he or she has HFMD.

Roseola Infantum (Measles)
This is a common yet mild virus that can cause a sudden high temperature, and lead to a rash on the arms and legs of babies and young children. It commonly affects children between the ages of six months and two years, lasting three to five days. Sometimes, symptoms can be so mild that the infection can come and go unnoticed, but measles vaccinations have proven to be effective in preventing this common illness altogether.

Roseola is contagious and can easily spread through tiny drops of fluid that are expelled when an infected person talks, laughs, coughs, or sneezes, explains Dr Chen. Children with this infection normally do not have to seek medical attention, but if your child has a fever greater than 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39.4 degrees Celsius), has Roseola, and a fever that lasts more than seven days or a rash that doesn’t get better after three days, you should call your doctor immediately.

Chickenpox (Varicella)
Chickenpox is the most common disease in children between the ages of one and 10 years old. Normally, if one child in a household gets it, it’s almost certain that any other person in the home who never had chickenpox, or has never been immunized, will get it next. It can also be caught if someone comes in contact with an item that has live chickenpox still on it, such as the inside surface of clothing worn by someone who has chickenpox. A child is infectious two days before the rash appears and stays infectious until all the blisters form scabs and are dry. “The progression of the disease last around seven to 10 days, and often spreads quickly, resulting in a necessary two week isolation period,” Dr Chen adds.

Chickenpox usually begins with a high fever, headache, sore throat, or stomachache. A red, itchy rash normally appears on the stomach, back or face first, and then spreads across the body. The rash continues to spread for three to four days and continues to be very itchy. Most children do not need any treatment for chickenpox, but to help manage the itchiness, you can try cool baths or calamine lotion, which can be bought at local pharmacies. “Usually complications such as varicella encephalitis, vericella pneumonia and other inflammations occur, but these can be addressed with symptomatic treatment, rest, and additional medical treatment,” says Dr Chen.

Children can reduce the risk of contracting chickenpox by getting the vaccine. Children who get vaccinated tend to have less severe cases and recover faster. In China, this vaccination is optional and vaccination rates are low, which makes outbreaks more likely.

Influenza
The flu is a respiratory infection that is very contagious and affects people of all ages. However, it can spread much quicker among children who play together and share close quarters in the classroom. Much like other diseases, it spreads when children take in fluids that are released by an infected person, or when they come in direct contact with fluid from someone with the flu. Even before the symptoms begin to show, children can spread the flu.

Medical professionals say the best way to avoid getting the flu is to get a yearly vaccination. Preventative hygiene is also a good tactic, such as frequent hand washing with disinfecting soap.

Scarlet Fever
Getting its name from the scarlet colored rash that forms on the skin, Scarlet fever is caused by an infection with group A streptococcus bacteria (usually strep throat) that forms the bacteria that induces this rash. Not all children react the same to this bacteria two children from the same family may both be infected, but one child may be sensitive to the bacteria and develop the rash, while the other doesn’t. “Cefaclor is the general medication recommended for patients,” Dr Chen adds.

The rash normally appears on the neck and face first, and looks like a bad sunburn with tiny bumps and may itch. The rash then spreads to the chest and back, continuing to cover the rest of the body. After six days, the rash usually fades but the affected skin may begin to peel. Other symptoms include a sore throat, high fever, and swollen glands in the neck. Sometimes the tonsils and back of the throat can seem swollen and red, and speckled with white-yellow pus pockets. The entire infection usually is cured with 10 days of antibiotics, but it may take more time for the swelling of the tonsils and glands to go down.

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