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Controlling Contagious Infections in Children

Contagious Illnesses: Keep an Eye Open for Symptoms

Recognizing the symptoms of common illnesses early can help prevent the illness from spreading. Look for these signs:

  • Colds and coughs are respiratory infections that usually spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. Symptoms include a cough and runny nose, as well as a mild fever.
  • Flu often spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Symptoms can include a runny nose, cough, fever, chills, and body aches. In adults, the disease is contagious about one day before symptoms appear and five days after. Flu can lead to serious complications including hospitalization and death. The best prevention is the flu vaccine.
  • MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) can be spread by touching another person who has MRSA on his or her skin. The best prevention is to keep your hands clean, avoid contact with other people’s wounds or bandages, and keep your own cuts and scrapes covered with bandages until they're healed. Also, do not share sports equipment or clothing.
  • Pinkeye is highly contagious. It's spread when you touch your eye after coming into contact with something an infected person has touched. Symptoms include eye redness, itching, pain, and discharge. Never touch your eye without washing your hands and don't share eye makeup or towels.
  • Stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis) symptoms include cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting. Symptoms usually appear one or two days after exposure to the virus, which is carried in the stool of an infected person. Failure to wash hands after using the bathroom and before handling food or touching surfaces spreads the disease. So wash those hands!
  • Strep throat is a common illness in children, and spreads when an infected person breathes, coughs, or sneezes. Symptoms include fever, headache, white patches in the throat, and pain. The incubation period for strep is two to five days. The contagious period lasts until 24 hours after starting an antibiotic.
  • Whooping cough (Pertussis) and chickenpox are childhood diseases that are prevented by vaccines, so they are uncommon today. Still, they can occur in unvaccinated children. Whooping cough causes a high-pitched "whoop" that can last up to 12 weeks. Children with whooping cough can be contagious for about three weeks. Chickenpox causes blisters all over the body. It's most contagious from one or two days before symptoms appear and until the blisters have crusted over.
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Reviewed on March 25, 2012

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