Children’s illnesses, viruses and infections

From warts to chickenpox, our family GP gives you the lowdown on children’s illnesses

Cold are very common – your child could get between 3 and 8 colds a year

Stages of the chickenpox virus

  • The virus is caused by contact with the varicella zoster virus and most often caught by children aged 2 to 8 years old between March and May.
  • The build-up. It takes 10 to 21 days for the first symptoms to show.
  • The symptoms are fever, aches, and feeling ill followed by a rash of red, itchy spots spreading over the body. The spots blister, burst then crust over.
  • Spots and itching – painkillers can help aching, calamine lotion, or sodium bicarbonate in the bath may stop itching, or try an age-appropriate antihistamine.
  • Infectious? Your tot is infectious until the last spot has crusted over (usually 5 to 7 days).

Q. My child has rotavirus. Is it a big threat?

A. Rotavirus is a common virus, which is spread when hands aren’t washed properly after using the loo. The main symptoms are usually mild vomiting and diarrhoea, lasting only a few days. Occasionally a child may become dehydrated and need oral rehydration treatment, so see your GP if the symptoms are prolonged or severe. Otherwise, the best thing to do is keep offering your child frequent sips of water or milk.

Once he stops vomiting, slowly introduce bland foods and avoid fruit juice and fizzy drinks until diarrhoea has stopped. Keep your child away from others for 48 hours after the last bout of diarrhoea or vomiting, and in future, take special care hand washing at toilet time.

Getting cold can give you a cold

While getting cold doesn’t increase the likelihood of catching a cold virus, it does mean symptoms are more likely to develop. That’s because when your temperature lowers, the blood vessels in your nose constrict, reducing the number of infection-fighting cells in your nose.

Ways to deal with an insect bite or sting

  • If the stinger is still in place, remove it by scraping it with a blunt object like a credit card.
  • A cold compress (a cold damp flannel or ice wrapped in a tea towel) will reduce the swelling.
  • An age-appropriate dose of painkillers will ease pain.
  • Antihistamine will help settle the reaction – discuss with your pharmacist.
  • If your child suffers facial swelling or has trouble breathing, call an ambulance immediately.

Ways to unblock constipation

  • Fluids. Make sure that your little one is drinking enough throughout the day – too little fluid can cause hard motions.
  • Exercise helps stimulate the bowel and can get things moving, so have an active afternoon!
  • Laxatives may be needed if constipation continues to be a problem. Talk to your GP if you’re concerned.
  • Routines. Ensure that time (around 10 minutes) is made for your toddler to go to the toilet without rushing him.
  • Duration. If constipation has only lasted a short time, then correcting it and continuing a good diet and fluid intake and toilet routines will probably ensure the problem does not recur.

Facts about warts and verrucas

  • They’re caused by a virus called the human papilloma virus.
  • They start with a lump. If it’s on the sole of the foot, this is called a verruca rather than a wart.
  • They’ll stay up to two years, untreated. As the body develops immunity they will go away, but they can come back.
  • Often warts cause no symptoms and don’t need treatment – unless they are in a painful place.
  • Your little one may need repeat treatment, as no treatment option is 100 per cent effective. Ask your pharmacist for advice.

Catching infections can help protect your child against allergies

There’s increasing evidence to show that children who catch certain infections in early life are less likely to suffer from allergic problems such as hayfever and asthma when they’re older. The theory is that if your child’s immune system is exposed to infections early on it ‘learns’ to react.

Virus-busting ‘must-dos’

  • Wash your hands frequently, especially before eating and after going to the toilet and ensure hands are dry afterwards.
  • Clean surfaces that are regularly touched by hands, not forgetting those that are easily forgotten such as telephones, keyboards, remote controls and door handles.
  • Stay away from others if you or they are ill – so no flu parties, mums!
  • Stock up on disposable tissues to capture sneezes and then throw away germs straightaway.
  • Update vaccinations. Make sure your family have all the right ones for their age.

Do ear infections always need antibiotics?

A lot of ear infections are actually caused by a virus, and viruses will not respond to antibiotics. In fact, in most cases (about 80%), ear infections will get better within a few days without any treatment. So discuss with your GP whether your child needs antibiotics immediately or if they advise waiting a few days to see if it clears up before any treatment, antibiotics or otherwise.

What you need to know about conjunctivitis

  • It’s a common complaint caused by inflammation of the membrane over the eye and inner eyelids due to an allergy or infection.
  • Symptoms are red, watery eyes. His eyelids may also be swollen.
  • The allergy-derived form can be itchy. Remove the irritant (eg pollen) and use eye drops or antihistamines.
  • Pus is often an added symptom of infective conjunctivitis. Usually it settles by itself, but you can clean the eye with cooled, boiled water.
  • Babies under one month should be seen by a GP to ensure they haven’t been infected during birth.

Tummy bug facts

  • Tummy bugs are extremely common. About one in five of us will have one every year.
  • The bugs are often caused by viruses, although occasionally bacteria is the culprit.
  • Most tummy bugs are very infectious. To limit the spread, always wash your hands after going to the loo etc.
  • If possible, keep eating a normal diet but avoid high-fat foods, and take on board plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • If you or your child are still unwell after a few days, make an appointment to see your doctor.


  • Its full name is molluscum contagiosum and it’s a viral infection of the skin, common in children aged between 1 and 4.
  • It causes small raised lumps on the skin, often in clusters. Though it spreads through direct contact, your child does not need to be kept away from nursery.
  • It doesn’t usually need treating. The lumps eventually go – though this can take a few months.
  • As the treatment can be painful it’s best to sit tight if your child has molluscum contagiosum.
  • Seek help if the lumps are near the eye, extensive or inflamed.

Facts about colds and flu

  • Viruses cause them, so antibiotics won’t help unless the patient has a secondary infection – often marked by an increase in fever or change in symptoms.
  • Colds are often worse in the first two to three days but can last over a week.
  • Flu symptoms are worse for the first three to five days or so but can linger for up to two weeks.
  • The average pre-school child has between three and eight colds a year.
  • They are best treated with painkillers, rest and honey for coughs in tots over 1. Children over 6 can use decongestants.

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