Why do children have frequent infections?
It is a common scenario for parents complaining that their children suffer from frequent infections. Often, there is a history of the child starting a nursery or daycare facility coinciding with the onset of these symptoms. It is nothing unusual as these children tend to catch infections from other children when they start nursery.
Other young children who otherwise stay at home may get infected from their brothers or sisters who attend nursery or school.
In the clear majority of cases, these children have minor upper respiratory infections. These include runny nose and blocked nose (upper respiratory infections), throat infections (tonsillitis, pharyngitis) and ear infections (otitis media). The other common infections in child relate to the gastrointestinal tract where the children present with vomiting, diarrhoea or both.
When should parents see a doctor?
Most cases of fever can be initially treated at home with fever medications or antipyretics (Paracetemol, ibuprofen, mefenemic acid etc.) for the first 2 to 3 days provided the child is active and well. If despite this if the fever is not being controlled or if the child shows any warning signs of a severe infection (given below) the family should see a paediatrician.
However in case of very young children under 6 months, parents should see the doctor straight away without any delay.
What are the warning signs that suggest a severe infection?
Some of the warning signs that suggest a severe infection include:
- Decreased activity and play
- Drowsiness or irritability
- Decreased intake of fluids
- Decreased urine output (less than 4 to 5 times per day)
- Headache, persistent vomiting
- Photophobia, neck stiffness
What can parents do to help the children at home?
Many of these are caused by viruses and get better on their own. In a child who is otherwise well, simple fever medicines like Paracetemol along with plenty of fluids would be sufficient.
Fever medications: Most of the simple infections tend to get better with medicines given for relief of temperature (antipyretics like Paracetemol) given for a brief period.
Fluids: It is normal for children to have low appetite during infections. If children are not taking solids orally parents do not need to panic and feed them forcefully.
They should ensure that the child is taking small sips of liquids frequently and passing urine in adequate quantities (4 to 5 times in 24 hours). As long as the child is taking liquids and passing urine regularly, the parents do not need to worry even if the child is not taking solids for few days.
Cold and cough syrups: There is a tendency for overuse of symptomatic medications like cough and cold syrups. These medications should be used only if there is difficulty in breathing, feeding or sleeping. Some of these infections require antibiotics if bacterial infection is suspected. However, overuse of antibiotics can also lead to side effects as well as development of antibiotic resistance.
How can these infections be prevented?
Infections can be prevented by the following means:
Vaccination: One of the most effective ways to prevent serious infections is vaccinations. Some of the common serious infections to which vaccinations are available are as follows:
- Tuberculosis (BCG vaccine)
- Poliomyelitis (OPV or IPV vaccine)
- Diphtheria (DPT or DTaP)
- Whooping cough or Pertussis (as part of DPT or DTaP)
- Tetanus (as part of DPT , DTaP, Dt, TT)
- Hepatitis A and B
- Haemophilus influenza type B (HiB vaccine)
- Pneumococcal infection
- Rotavirus (causes diarrhoea)
- Flu virus (including swine flu)
- Measles (Measles or as part of MMR)
- Mumps (as part of MMR)
- Rubella (as part of MMR)
- Chicken pox
Preventing spread: Infections are spread between children through air (coughing, sneezing), water, food, and contact (direct as well as indirect through objects). Therefore, simple ways to prevent the spread of infections include:
- Hand washing and other hygienic measures
- Avoid contaminated food and water (especially during travel)
- Avoid going to school during the infective periods (prevents spread to other children)
- Avoiding contact with infected children (prevents spread to your own children)
- Avoiding contact with infected children and adults is particularly important for newborn babies and young infants as they are particularly vulnerable to infections.
When should parents suspect immunodeficiency?
Frequent severe infections (examples pneumonia, meningitis, blood infections etc.) requiring hospital admissions.
Severe infections caused by organisms which are usually not harmful.
Infections caused by unusual organisms (which are not expected to cause infection in healthy children- examples Pneumocystis carinii, Aspergillus etc.)
Complicated infections that are difficult to treat or requiring prolonged treatment.
Infections affecting several parts of the body simultaneously.
History of immunodeficiency in closely related family member.
Failure to gain weight (due to poor feeding, chronic diarrhoea and frequent infections).
About the Doctor:
Dr. Srinivas Jakka,
Consultant Paediatrician, pulmonology and allergy specialist
MD (Paediatrics), MRCPCH (UK), diploma in allergy (UK)
Dr. Srinivas Jakka is an experienced Paediatrician, Pulmonologist and Allergy Specialist. He completed his training in India and world renowned hospitals in UK. He has vast experience in the management of children with complex paediatric problems, asthma, complex respiratory diseases and allergies.
About The Hospital:
Ankura is a chain of Children’s Hospital in Hyderabad. Set up in the year 2011 in KPHB, near Hitech Railway Station, the Ankura Hospitals family has today spread its wings to Secunderabad, Khammam and Vijayawada.