Youngsters are pretty good at fighting infections, and it doesn’t make much difference whether the infection is brought on by bacteria or viruses. But some things are important: Children must be in good general condition, or else it will be much more difficult for them to overcome an infection; furthermore, when they have an infection that affects the whole body, they must make certain to rest in bed and to drink large amounts of fluids.
Everybody is surrounded by various bacteria and viruses all the time. They cover the entire surface of the earth on which we live. They are everywhere in the air, in the water, on the ground, in the fluids we drink and the food we eat, the skin of our bodies, in our noses and throats, in our mouths, in the tubes leading to our lungs, and in our intestines. But most of the time these germs and viruses don’t get into our blood or into the tissues of our and dies. They just stay on the surface of our membranes and our skin. As long as they stay on the surface of these structures, they don’t cause an infection and hey don’t make us sick.
A boil has only one opening, or “head.” It is an infection caused by bacteria, most often a staphylococcus germ, and can appear anywhere on the body. A child should not attempt to open a boil himself—this could cause the infection to spread. Boils should be drained by a doctor when the pus is ready to come out.
Some bacteria and viruses are so powerful that unless we are vaccinated against them, no matter how good our general health, they will enter the tissues and the bloodstream of our bodies and we will get sick. For example, unless we take injections against measles, the measles virus can get into our bodies and give us the measles; unless we take injections to protect us against the diphtheria bacteria, we are likely to get this disease.
A child’s resistance and ability to fight off an infection can be poor if that child is undernourished and lacks the proper amounts of proteins and vitamins. If a child is anemic and has too few red blood cells, it will be more difficult to fight off an infection. And, finally, if a child has a disease in an organ such as the kidneys or the liver or the bone marrow that manufactures white blood cells, the child is more apt to have trouble keeping infections from entering the body and causing illness. The commonest types of skin infections are called pimples, boils, and abscesses. They can appear anywhere on the body. Pimples are usually no bigger than the size of a pea; a boil may grow to the size of a grape, or a prune, or even larger. Some abscesses are small, while others can grow to the size of a lemon, or even larger.
Pimples, boils, and abscesses are filled with pus, usually cream-colored or a light green color. These infections hurt quite a lot before they are opened by a doctor—or sometimes open by themselves. Then, when the pus comes out, most of the pain disappears within a few hours.
There are certain things that children should remember about pimples, boils, and abscesses:
1. If the infection causes fever, the child should stay in bed. Pimples don’t often cause temperature, and many boils don’t, either. However, large boils and abscesses do cause fever, and bed rest is important until the temperature returns to normal.
2. Pimples, boils, and abscesses should never be squeezed. This will cause them to spread and grow. Sometimes, if a child squeezes a pimple, it will become a boil. Squeezing a small boil may turn it into a large, spreading abscess.
3. The best way to hurry up a pimple, boil, or abscess so that the pus is ready come out by itself, or ready to be punctured—or lanced—by a doctor, is apply nice, warm, wet compresses to the area. (A compress is made of a piece of gauze, or a washcloth, or a towel that has been soaked in warm water.) Frequently, a doctor may recommend that some salt be mixed with the warm water before it is applied to the infected area.
4. Doctors sometimes recommend that children be given an antibiotic medicine to overcome a large boil or the pus will be absorbed by tile body instead of draining to the outside.
5. A pimple, boil, or abscess should never be opened until it is “ripe,” or until the pus is ready to come out. Many pimples burst by themselves and the pus runs out, but most boils and larger abscesses have to be opened by the doctor. To do this, he gives a little abscess. Antibiotics aren’t needed for ordinary pimples. But antibiotics may make a boil or abscess disappear, and freezing spray to the area and quickly sticks a knife into the boil or abscess. It is over so quickly that there isn’t much pain.
6. Germs that cause pimples, boils, and abscesses can spread to other members of the family, so it is very important to wash your hands thoroughly after touching or treating such an infection. Also, washcloths, towels, handkerchiefs, and other things that might have pus on them should be boiled so that all the germs are killed.
A carbuncle is a deep-seated infection of the skin, and is different from a boil in that it has more than one “head,” or opening. In order to cure a carbuncle, each of the parts of the underlying abscess must be drained. The patient must then rest, drink plenty of liquids, and take antibiotics.
When someone has a boil or abscess, lymph glands nearby may get enlarged and tender. As we mentioned earlier, the lymph glands help to prevent the germs, or the poisons the germs produce, from getting into the blood and spreading the infection to other parts of the body.
Although viruses can cause many infections that affect the whole body— like measles, German measles, chicken pox, and other childhood diseases— they don’t cause pimples, boils, and abscesses. The bacteria that cause most pimples, boils, and abscesses are the staphylococcus germ and the streptococcus germ. Unfortunately, vaccination against these germs doesn’t work very well, and as a result we can get infections with these germs over and over again.
Do you know the best way to avoid pimples, boils, abscesses, and other infections? Well, the best way is to keep ür resistance high by eating a good diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables and milk, and by getting plenty of sleep. And one more thing: We should keep our bodies clean so that the germs are washed off our body surface frequently. Children who are always dirty and don’t wash their hands often and don’t bathe regularly are much more likely to get infections.
Two germs which may cause infections of the body’s various organs are shown in these photomicrographs. Left: the chainlike formation of streptococcus bacteria. Right: th characteristic grapelike clusters of staphylococcus bacteria.