Childhood diseases: measles, scarlet fever, rubella, chickenpox& co.


Measles, mumps, scarlet fever, rubella: The typical childhood diseases are not always as harmless as some parents think. There is a risk of serious complications. Vaccinations can protect against most of these infectious diseases, but not against all of them. An overview.

For a long time, the typical childhood diseases were considered harmless, according to the motto: "Children just have to get through it. A dangerous misconception, medical experts warn today.

Measles can cause meningitis, mumps can cause infertility in boys, and scarlet fever can cause heart valve defects. Although such complications are very rare, they are associated with serious consequences for those concerned. Other infectious diseases such as rubella, ringworm and chickenpox are mild, but can cause serious damage to the unborn child during pregnancy.

In addition, the classic childhood diseases often occur in adolescents and adults and are often more severe than in younger patients.

Vaccinations help against many childhood diseases

You can protect yourself against most of these infectious diseases by vaccination. But not all parents trust the official recommendations of vaccination experts. Some fear vaccine damage, others assume the diseases are harmless or the risk of infection is low. But this is a fallacy. However, it is not yet possible to protect against all infectious diseases that are typical for children through artificial immunization.

Here you can read how you can quickly recognize eight common childhood diseases and how to react to them properly.


  • Hepatitis
  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Pfeiffersches glandular fever
  • Ringworm
  • Rubella
  • Scarlet fever
  • Chickenpox

Childhood diseases: Hepatitis (A)

Symptoms and course: Hepatitis is a viral infection of the liver. The illness often begins with flu-like symptoms, the children feel fatigued and tired, have an aversion to fatty foods, have abdominal pain and diarrhea, and have to vomit. Often, but not always, an enlarged liver is diagnosed. Skin and eyeballs can turn yellow; hence the name Jaundice. The yellowing occurs because the liver can no longer process the bilirubin properly due to the advanced inflammation. This substance, which is produced when the blood pigment is broken down, therefore accumulates in the blood, which then manifests itself via the typical discolorations. At the same time, the urine turns dark and the stool light in color (clay stool). The doctor can diagnose the infection with a blood test.

In children it is most often caused by the hepatitis A virus, very rarely only by the hepatitis B virus. With hepatitis A, symptoms subside after four to six weeks. The disease usually heals without problems and never becomes chronic. Hepatitis B is also usually mild and heals after about six weeks. However, if fatigue, weakness or feelings of pressure in the upper abdomen do not subside, this may indicate a chronic course of the disease.

Infection: Hepatitis A, also called travel hepatitis, is transmitted primarily through contaminated food and water. Two to seven weeks pass between infection and the outbreak of the disease (incubation period). Especially when traveling abroad, you should therefore only drink boiled water and brush your teeth, and otherwise stick to the motto: "Boil it, peel it or forget it!"

Hepatitis B is only transmitted to children if the mother contracted it during pregnancy. Once you have overcome both hepatitis A and hepatitis B, you are protected against re-infection for the rest of your life.

Treatment: There is no specific treatment. It is advisable to transfer the sick child to hospital. It is important to compensate for the loss of fluids caused by vomiting and diarrhea. Infusions may be necessary. Vaccinations are available against both hepatitis A and B.

Complications: If children contract hepatitis B, the disease often becomes chronic. In the worst case, this can lead to cirrhosis of the liver.

What parents can do: Ensure rest, a low-fat diet and sufficient fluid intake.


Childhood diseases: Measles

Symptoms and course: At first, the illness resembles a cold with cough, runny nose, conjunctivitis, sensitivity to light and moderate fever. After two to three days, whitish spots form on the cheek mucosa at the level of the lower molars. One day later, the fever rises to over 40 degrees Celsius. A red, very severe rash begins behind the ears and spreads over the neck and face to the torso, arms and legs.

The spots, which are initially about five millimeters in size, converge over a wide area. The face is puffy, the children feel very ill. From the sixth day fever and rash gradually recede. Brownish spots are sometimes visible for another two weeks. It can take three weeks for a child to recover properly.

Infection: This viral disease is highly contagious – starting as early as five days before the onset of the supposed cold until about two days after the rash appears. Infection occurs through droplet infection. Those who have had measles are immune for life afterwards.

Treatment: The measles viruses cannot be combated directly with medication. If the fever is high at the beginning, the child should be given antipyretics with the active ingredient paracetamol or ibuprofen – never acetylsalicylic acid (ASA).

Complications: Concomitant illnesses can include middle ear infection or pneumonia. Then the fever suddenly rises again sharply, the child complains of earache or coughs constantly. In this case, the doctor prescribes antibiotics. A rare complication is measles croup – an inflammation of the larynx with a dangerous narrowing of the airways. If the child is breathing noisily and with difficulty, go to the doctor or hospital immediately. Also feared is the meningitis caused by measles, which in very rare cases can turn into encephalitis. From around ten years of age, the risk of brain inflammation increases rapidly.

Last but not least, measles can cause progressive destruction of the brain – subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) – even months or years later. Babies who contract the disease in the first year of life have an increased risk of developing SSPE. The Standing Commission on Vaccination (Stiko) therefore recommends that in areas where measles is rampant, babies should be given their first vaccination before the age of one, but not before the age of nine months. However, this does not replace the two regular vaccinations in the second year of life.

What parents can do: You should have your child vaccinated against measles. In case of illness, the patient needs a lot of rest. The room should be slightly darkened and plenty of fluids should be given. If the fever is high, calf compresses or fever suppositories can help. Keep the child at home until he or she is completely well again. Even after symptoms subside, children remain susceptible to infections for some time.

Children’s diseases: Mumps

Symptoms and course: The popular name Goat mumps Owes to an accumulation of fluid in the tissues at the sides of the earlobes, causing them to protrude. The cause is an inflammation of the parotid gland caused by the mumps virus. Sometimes other glands are affected, such as the testicles, the pancreas or, even more rarely, the ovaries. Mumps is usually harmless and is only visible in about half of the cases. Some children are just a little floppy, others feel downright miserable.

The disease often begins with fever (38 to 40 degrees Celsius), headache or general malaise. Then the painful swelling of the parotid glands in the angle of the jaw occurs. At first, only one side swells, followed by the other one or two days later. Chewing and swallowing are difficult. The thick cheeks persist for about four to eight days. After seven to ten days everything is over.

infection: This viral disease is very contagious. The first symptoms appear about two to three weeks after contact with sick children. The infected person himself is infectious for about four to seven days before the onset of the disease until about ten days afterwards. Those who have had mumps once never get the disease again.

Treatment: One can only try to relieve the symptoms.

Complications: In addition to the parotid glands, the virus can also affect the pancreas, thyroid or gonads. The infection is almost always benign. Rarely, hearing loss remains. If boys fall ill after puberty, inflammation of the testicles can lead to infertility in rare cases. In about ten percent of cases, meningitis develops, which very rarely can cause hearing loss.

What parents can do: You can have your child vaccinated against mumps. If sick, swelling can be relieved with cool compresses. However, they should not be used if the child is cold or feverish. Here’s how: Wrap a damp, cool cloth not too tightly around the child’s neck, over it a second cloth and then a woolen scarf. Remove the poultice after ten minutes, dry the neck, and repeat the application after 20 minutes to one hour.

Onion sachets help with earaches. If the patient has pain when chewing and swallowing, soups or mushy food are recommended. The child should not drink sour fruit juices, because this stimulates the salivary glands. Oral care is important. Abdominal pain indicates involvement of the pancreas. Hot water bottles, bed rest and a diet low in fat and milk have a soothing effect.

Childhood diseases: Pfeiffer’s glandular fever

Symptoms and progression: The viral disease begins with unclear symptoms and can be protracted. The sick person feels tired and listless, has a slight fever and sometimes white coatings on the tonsils. The lymph nodes, especially in the corners of the jaw, are severely swollen and ache with even slight pressure. Sometimes the spleen and liver also swell.

The glandular fever drags on for up to three weeks. Afterwards, it can take weeks or even months to recover properly. Younger children suffer less than adolescents. The name is derived from the German pediatrician Emil Pfeiffer (1846-1921).

Infection: The disease is also called kissing disease because the Epstein-Barr virus, which belongs to the herpes family and causes glandular fever, is transmitted mainly through saliva. The first signs of the disease appear one to two weeks after contact, but sometimes not until later.

Treatment: One can only alleviate the symptoms of the disease.

Complications: The disease is usually protracted, but complications or sequelae are not to be feared.

What parents can do: Bed rest is especially important. Warm or cold neck compresses may help somewhat with the painful swellings. For pain, you can give paracetamol or ibuprofen. Ensure good oral hygiene and give the patient plenty to drink. Do not exercise for three weeks after symptoms subside, especially if the spleen was swollen.


Childhood diseases: Ringworm

Symptoms and progression: The disease, which usually has no complications, is also known as slap in the face disease. Usually, about a week after the child has been infected, a bright redness appears on the face: cheeks and the root of the nose are reddened, while the chin, mouth and tip of the nose remain unaffected. The pattern is often compared to butterfly wings.

A day later, the rash spreads to the inside of the arms and legs and to the buttocks. Initially, the rash resembles measles. Lentil-sized spots sometimes flow together, forming ring-shaped figures. The rash, which only appears at all in about 20 percent of sufferers, disappears after a week. Ringworm is often not recognized.

Different symptoms may occur: Headache, abdominal pain or sore throat. After ten to twelve days the disease is over. Some affected persons – children less frequently than adults – suffer from severe joint pain that takes weeks to subside.

Infection: Ringworm is caused by a different virus than rubella. The disease begins on the fourth day after infection. From this point on, the patient is also infectious himself – until the onset of the rash. Anyone who has been infected once is immune for life.

Treatment: Special treatment is not necessary.

Complications: Ringworm is dangerous for expectant mothers. Especially in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, there is a risk that the embryo will be damaged. Ringworm can cause a miscarriage.

What parents can do: Rough or scaly skin can be treated with lotions or oil baths. If fever is present, fever-reducing measures can be taken, such as applying calf compresses. Keep infected children away from pregnant women.


Childhood diseases: Rubella

Symptoms and course: Rubella often begins with a mild cold or headache. Lens-sized red spots appear after one to two days, spreading from the face over the entire body. The rash is usually not itchy. Sometimes a slight fever occurs. Symptoms disappear after a few days. Often the disease is not even noticed, because it runs without major symptoms. Even then, the child is immune for life.

InfectionThe virus is usually transmitted through direct contact with an infected person. It can be passed from a few days before the rash begins until about two weeks after symptoms subside. However, the greatest danger is from two days before the onset of the disease to five days after the onset of the rash.

TreatmentSpecial treatment is not necessary.

ComplicationsThe rubella virus is dangerous for expectant mothers because it can cause severe damage to the embryo, especially during the first three months of pregnancy. Young women who want to get pregnant and have not been through the disease must therefore be vaccinated. If the unborn child is infected in the womb – especially in early pregnancy – this often leads to heart defects, lens opacities, hearing loss, mental retardation or even death of the child.

What parents can do: To protect against rubella, have the child vaccinated. Keep sick children away from pregnant women.


Childhood diseases: Chickenpox

Symptoms and course: Chickenpox, also called varicella, is usually harmless. However, the itchy pustules that suddenly appear on the trunk and spread rapidly are agonizing. The entire skin and mucous membrane is affected – including the mouth, genitals and scalp. Only hands and feet remain free. The red spots or nodules develop into blisters with clear contents that burst easily. They dry up and a crust forms in their place, which falls off after one to two weeks.

During the first four days, there are always new episodes, sometimes accompanied by fever and difficulty swallowing. In girls, the vaginal blisters may burn when they urinate. Children are usually well within seven to 10 days. The crusts disappear after two to three weeks. If they become infected or scratched open, small white scars may be left behind.

Infection: The disease is extremely contagious and breaks out two to three weeks after contact with the virus. The virus is transmitted through the contents of the blisters, by coughing and sneezing. Children between the ages of two and six are the most likely to contract the disease. Chickenpox is something you only get once. However, the viruses remain in the nerve cells for life. In adulthood, reactivation in the form of shingles is possible.

Treatment: No special treatment is needed from the doctor.

Complications: For embryos and newborns, a disease can be dangerous if the mother has not gone through it herself. If a pregnant woman becomes infected, it can happen between the 8. and 21. In the first week of pregnancy, malformations occur in about one percent of unborn children. If the mother falls ill shortly before or after giving birth, this leads to a severe course of the disease in the newborn, which can be life-threatening.

What parents can do: Reliable protection against infection is provided by vaccination. In the case of chickenpox, the laundry should be changed daily. Some doctors advise against bathing children until the crusts have fallen off: The pustules could become infected, plus they are supposed to dry out quickly, but they soften when bathed. A short shower with lukewarm water without soap is recommended.

In case of very strong itching, cetirizine can be given – an antihistamine, which is mainly used for allergies. Dab the blisters with a cream or lotion containing tannin. Or add a tablespoon of fruit vinegar to a liter of lukewarm water and dab the pustules with it several times a day to prevent the blisters from becoming infected. Keep the child’s fingernails short so that he or she does not scratch as much. Dress the child airy.

After about ten days, when all pustules have crusted over, the child is no longer contagious and can return to the nursery.

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