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9 Childhood Illnesses: Get the Facts

By Camille Peri
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD

As a parent, you've probably handled enough ear infections, colds, and stomach bugs to feel like an expert. But here are nine other illnesses you should know about.

RSV

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is an infection of the airways. It usually isn’t serious, but if your child is under 2, or has a heart or lung disease or a weak immune system, it can inflame the lungs and cause pneumonia.

"It's the most common viral respiratory infection that causes hospitalization in young babies," says Kathryn M. Edwards, MD, director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program.

Symptoms:

  • Cold-like symptoms such as runny nose, nasal congestion and cough
  • Irritability and breathing problems in infants

Talk with your doctor about ways to ease your child’s symptoms. A drug called palivizumab (Synagis) can be used to prevent RSV in high risk infants.

Fifth Disease

Another viral illness, fifth disease is common in kids ages 5 to 15.

"In most children, it's benign," says James Cherry, MD, a specialist in children's infectious diseases.

A child with sickle cell anemia or a weak immune system can become very ill from fifth disease. It can also be serious in pregnant women.

Symptoms:

A few days later…

  • a bright red rash appears, usually on the face, then spreads down the body.

By the time the rash appears, the illness is no longer contagious, Cherry says.

It can take 1 to 3 weeks for the rash to go away. In some children, the rash may itch, and the joints may ache. Your doctor can recommend ways to ease these symptoms.

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

This contagious viral illness usually isn’t serious.

Children under age 5 are most likely to catch it, through saliva, fluid from blisters and possibly viral shedding through stool.

Symptoms:

A few days later…

  • Painful sores may develop in the back of the throat
  • Skin rash – typically on the palms and soles, but can also occur on the trunk and diaper region

It usually clears up in 7 to 10 days without treatment.

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