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Common childhood illnesses and how best to handle them

Childhood vaccinations, a solid foundation for lifelong health

Once your baby is born, it is vital to lay the foundations for lifelong health and wellness by ensuring that your child receives all the necessary childhood vaccinations, says Sharlene Swart, national coordinator of Netcare Stork’s Nest mother and baby wellness clinics.

“It is also important to visit a mother and baby wellness clinic, such as your local Netcare Stork’s Nest, regularly. This will help to track the development of your baby and will provide new parents with the opportunity raise any questions or concerns they may have regarding basic, day-to-day functions including feeding, various milestones or even establishing sleep patterns,” notes Swart.

She strongly advises parents to schedule health and wellness check-ups at the following ages:

  • Two weeks after birth.
  • At six, 10 and 14 weeks of age.
  • From six months, every three months until your baby is 18 months old.
  • Annually thereafter, up to the age of six, when you should schedule an appointment with a paediatrician.

Childhood vaccines should be very carefully monitored. Those recommended by the national Department of Health and are provided by Netcare Stork’s clinics, aim at protecting children from a variety of serious or potentially fatal diseases, which are completely preventable, she explains.

“There is controversy surrounding immunisations and vaccinations, with allegations that vaccines could cause autism. The original study that ignited this debate several years ago has, however, since been refuted and retracted. Although signs of autism may occasionally appear at around the same time that children receive certain vaccines – such as the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine – this is simply a rare coincidence,” explains Swart.

“While a natural chickenpox infection could lead to pneumonia, vaccinations on the other hand help prevent diseases and their potentially serious complications,” asserts Swart.

Swart says that after being immunised, a child may seem unwell for a short while thereafter but some may have no adverse reaction to immunisation at all. She adds that after getting vaccinated, a child may develop redness or swelling around the injection point or a slight temperature.

Swart warns that there are different childhood illnesses that have similar symptoms but says parents should ensure children get the necessary vaccinations.

Childhood illnesses and what to do:

  • Chickenpox typically presents as a blotchy rash followed by spots that are flat and red. The spots eventually turn into pimples and thereafter into itchy blisters, which finally form scabs. The child generally feels unwell and may have a headache and a slight fever. Parents should alleviate itchiness by adding baking soda to lukewarm bath water or by applying calamine lotion. It is imperative to prevent scratching, as this can lead to scarring and infection, which will require medical care.
  • Measles is a notifiable disease and such infections should be reported to a doctor immediately. The child will develop tiny white spots with a flat red base, followed by a blotchy red rash. A fever, red watery eyes, runny nose and a cough are accompanying

symptoms. Paracetamol syrup will assist with the easing of headaches and fever.

  • Roseola infantum, also known as baby measles, presents as a red rash on the chest and abdomen, also on the arms, legs and face. A high fever may occur three to five days prior to the onset of the rash. Treat the high fever if it makes your child feel unwell and see a doctor for appropriate diagnosis and treatment.
  • German measles (Rubella) causes aches and pains with mild cold symptoms followed by a rash of tiny, flat, pink spots that may start on the face and neck, before spreading to the body and limbs. Paracetamol syrup can be given for pain relief. Contact your doctor if your child has joint pain or other symptoms such as a severe headache, drowsiness or vomiting.
  • Mumps often causes swelling of the salivary glands on one or both sides of the jaw. This results in considerable pain when eating and drinking. It has, on occasion, been known to cause fever as well. Paracetamol or ibuprofen can be used for pain. Avoid giving sour or acidic foods. Seek medical attention if you are concerned about the condition of your child.

Tips for parents:

  • Do not give your baby paracetamol prior to a vaccination to prevent fever.
  • Do not touch or press the swollen area.
  • If you are concerned that your child may be having an allergic reaction, seek medical assistance.
  • Know how to identify and act in case of common childhood illnesses and ailments.
  • The younger the baby, the more inclined you should be to seek medical attention as the health of a baby can deteriorate very quickly. It is always best to be on the safe side.
  • As your child gets older, you will become more experienced in monitoring and treating their ailments.
  • Whatever the age of your child, trust your instincts and err on the side of caution.

According to Swart, parents should not delay in taking a child to the doctor when they are concerned. A child can deteriorate quickly and getting medical attention is essential, especially for babies, she concludes.