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9 Childhood Illnesses: Get the Facts

By Camille Peri
WebMD Feature

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.


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.


There is no treatment for RSV, but talk with your doctor about ways to ease your child’s symptoms.

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.


  • Low fever
  • Cold symptoms (like runny nose)
  • Swollen joints

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 coughs, sneezes, and fluid from blisters.


  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Poor appetite

A few days later…

  • Painful sores may develop in the mouth.
  • Skin rash  

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


Croup inflames the lining of the windpipe and voice box. It is most often caused by viruses, and lasts for a week or less.


  • Runny nose
  • Fever
  • Other cold-like symptoms

A few days later…

  • Hoarseness
  • Barking cough that gets worse at night

Run a hot shower, and sit with your child in the steamed-up bathroom for 10 minutes. "Breathing in moist air is always good," Edwards says.

If your child is having trouble breathing, having noisy breathing, or not eating or drinking well, call the doctor. Steroids are sometimes given to decrease airway swelling.

Scarlet Fever

This bacterial infection was once a deadly disease, but now it’s easily treatable.


  • Sore throat
  • Itchy, scarlet-colored rash around the neck and face that may spread to the rest of the body.

If your child has a sore throat and rash, call the doctor. It is important to treat it with a round of antibiotics to prevent rare but serious complications.

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