Early Childhood Infections

Children are subject to a variety of infectious diseases early in their lives, which have the potential to cause significant illness and mortality. It is not until the age of 7-8 years old that children have a fully mature immune system therefore, it is important to support your child’s immune system during this time. There is some exchange of antibodies between the mother and fetus during pregnancy, and further supplement from the mother via breast feeding. However, there are still some infections that pose significant risk to the developing child therefore an extensive vaccination schedule is required. Vaccination is essential in early childhood, and probably represents the most effective health intervention the world has ever seen at reducing morbidity and mortality. Depending on which country you live in, the schedule for childhood vaccination will vary.

Although, vaccination may prevent many harmful bacterial and viral infections, there are still some other infections that can cause considerable illness in childhood. Most childhood infections present with skin rashes or coughs and colds. All infections produce negative effects and outcomes on the child, consuming energy and interrupting development. Persistent infections causing significant malnutrition may result in failure to thrive, a condition of inadequate nutrition and weight below an acceptable level. More serious infections threatening breathing can develop, such as those causing pneumonia which represents a severe threat most likely requiring hospitalization.

Fact Files

Chickenpox (Varicella zoster virus)

  • Symptoms: rash of small itchy sores (usually on face, scalp and body)
    • Infected scabs can lead to scarring
    • Avoid scratching
  • Frequency: at least 90% of people have chickenpox before adulthood
  • Spread: contact
  • Contagious
  • Can be more severe in adults and immunocompromised people
  • Vaccination status: available

Measles (paramyxovirus)

  • Symptoms: blotchy rash, red watering eyes, runny nose, cough
  • Frequency: rare (more frequent in underdeveloped countries)
  • Spread: droplets
  • Highly contagious
  • Can lead to respiratory conditions such as pneumonia or croup
  • Vaccination status: available

Mumps (paramyxovirus)

  • Symptoms: fever, headache, malaise, dry mouth
  • Frequency: common
  • Spread: airborne droplets and saliva
  • Contagious
  • Can cause abdominal pain, pancreatitis, aseptic meningitis
  • Vaccination status: available

Rubella (ribovirus)

  • Symptoms: scattered rash (sometimes itchy, first appearing on the face and neck), headache, pain in muscles
  • Frequency: not common
  • Spread: droplets
  • Modestly contagious
  • Can be fatal to child if transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy
  • Vaccination status: available

Scarlet Fever (Group A Streptococcus pyogenes)

  • Symptoms: red spot rash (neck, armpit, groin, skinfolds), malaise, sore throat, fever, vomiting
  • Frequency: rare
  • Spread: droplets
  • Contagious
  • Can spread to other areas of the body including the lungs
  • Vaccination status: not available

Whooping Cough (Bordetella pertussis)

  • Symptoms: intermittent coughing and whooping, vomiting, conjunctivitis, anorexia
  • Frequency: common (if not immunized)
  • Spread: airborne droplets
  • Highly contagious
  • Can cause pneumonia, ear infections, seizures (rare)
  • Vaccination: available

Meningitis (viral or bacterial)

  • Symptoms: fever, lethargy, nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, increased head circumference
  • Frequency: uncommon
  • Spread: various
  • Can cause significant neurological deficits and can be fatal
  • Vaccination: available (for some causes of meningitis)


If you suspect your child has an infection, it is important to seek urgent professional health advice.

For information about how you can support your child’s immune health, click here.

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