When your grandparents were young, they had a pretty hard time fighting all the many contagious diseases that affected a huge number of children. There were a whole bunch of them, but most common contagious diseases are diphtheria, measles, German measles, mumps, whooping cough, polio, smallpox, scarlet fever, roseola, and chicken pox.
Can you imagine, there are a lot of and parents around today who had or seven contagious diseases when they were young? And some of these diseases—especially polio, diphtheria, snail pox, and scarlet fever—were very serious sicknesses. Nowadays, children are a great deal luckier because doctors have discovered vaccines that prevent most of the contagious diseases. As a matter of fact, the only diseases for which they don’t have vaccines are chicken pox and roseola.
Three of the ten diseases—diphtheria, polio, and scarlet fever—used to cause a tremendous amount of trouble, but within recent years, they have become almost completely controlled. Since almost every child in this country gets diphtheria and polio vaccine, it is extremely rare to see a child with these diseases. And for some strange reason, scarlet fever has become a very mild condition, instead of the serious illness, it used to be when your grandparents were children. As a matter of fact, doctors don’t bother to give young boys and girls vaccinations against scarlet fever because the reaction to the vaccination will make the child sicker than scarlet fever will itself!
By the time boys and girls reach five years of age, they have received vaccinations against diphtheria, measles, German measles, whooping cough, polio, smallpox, and mumps. Therefore, there are few contagious diseases that they might get except chicken pox or scarlet fever. And, as we just mentioned, scarlet fever these days is so mild that children may have it without their parents even knowing it. They don’t have to worry about roseola, either, because it almost always comes before a child is five years of age.
Chicken pox is not a serious disease, but it does seem to get around a lot. It is very contagious and spreads easily from one child to another by a sneeze or a cough, or even from touching and playing with a child who is developing chicken pox. After being with a child with chicken pox, it takes other children about two to three weeks before they get the sickness.
There is no way to stop a child who has been with a child with the disease from getting chicken pox. A lucky child might not catch it, but most times will. Do you know how a mother tells that her child is getting chicken pox? Well, here is how it develops:
For a day or two, the child doesn’t feel very well and may have a few sniffles, and it looks as if he or she is catching cold. Then, the appetite isn’t very good, and some temperature may develop. On the second or third day of the illness, a few tiny spots appear on the body, mostly on the chest, abdomen, and upper part of the arms and thighs. Soon these spots form blisters, and they cover most of the head and neck and rest of the body. Within a couple of days, the drops of fluid within the blisters turn from a clear to a cloudy color. Then, after four or five days, the blisters dry up and form scabs. The scabs take a couple of weeks before they fall off. A child should never scratch or pick off a chicken pox scab as it may cause a permanent scar. If a blister or scab itches, a warm bath or a medicine spread over the scabs will stop the itching.
By the time all the blisters have dried up and formed scabs, the temperature is normal and the child feels perfectly all right. Also, when all the blisters are gone, the child can no longer give the disease to another child.
Boys and girls who are getting well from chicken pox are sometimes pretty unhappy because they just sit around and wait for their scabs to fall off before they can play with their friends or go back to school. Actually, it wouldn’t do any harm if they did resume their activities earlier, as the disease is no longer contagious after the scabs have formed. But teachers and mothers of other children usually don’t want to have children around when they’re still covered with scabs.
Children who have recovered from chicken pox should know that almost all of the marks left by the scabs will disappear in time. It is only when a scab has become infected from picking and scratching that it may leave a scar.
Although it may be difficult to believe, there are still many poor and undeveloped parts of the world where children are unable to get shots and vaccinations to prevent contagious diseases. As a result, epidemics do take place from time to time. Here are some of the diseases these unfortunate children may catch:
This is a disease in which there is a fever and a severe sore throat. It is the condition is not treated quickly, it may cause heart trouble or paralysis of nerves. Even when the disease is brought under control, it takes several weeks to recover.
It takes a week or two to catch measles from another child. It starts out as an ordinary cold, with a stuffy nose and runny eyes, but then the child develops fever, a dry cough, and a rash all over the body. The rash lasts about a week, but it takes two or three weeks before the patient fully recovers. When measles is very severe, it may affect the kidneys or other important organs. You get measles only once.
German measles is a completely different disease than measles because it is caused by a different virus. It takes two to three weeks to develop, and its first signs are a slight fever, a mild cold, and swelling of the glands in the back of the neck. Within a day or two, a light pinkish rash comes all over the body. A child with German measles doesn’t feel terribly sick and is usually better in four to five days.
The real danger of German measles is when a pregnant woman catches the condition. If she does, it is possible that her unborn child may be affected. For this reason, every young girl should be vaccinated against German measles before she gets married. You get German measles only once.
Mumps is an inflammation of the glands at the angle of the jaws. It is caused by a virus that spreads from one person to another through coughing, or sometimes from kissing someone who is getting mumps. It usually takes two to three weeks for mumps to develop after one has been exposed to a person with the illness.
Children with mumps have a fever and a painful swelling on the side of the face beneath the ears. Mumps is an inflammation of the parotid gland which secretes saliva. The pain is often made worse when the patient eats spicy foods.
The swelling of the glands lasts anywhere from five to ten days and then goes away. it is a good idea for children to get mumps vaccine to prevent mumps. In boys and girls over twelve years of age, and in grown-ups, mumps sometimes causes a serious, painful inflammation of the testicles or ovaries. And so, if the condition can be avoided by vaccination, such inflammation will not take place. Once in a great while, a child will have mumps on one side only, and then, years later may have mumps on the opposite side.
Whooping cough is passed from one person to another by coughing. It usually takes one week to a week and a half to catch the condition. The disease starts out as an ordinary cold, but the child then begins to cough more and more often, with the L worst coughing taking place at night. The coughing, once it starts, is hard for the patient to stop. As a matter of fact, children with a whooping cough lose their breath, and at the end of a fit of coughing, they breathe in a huge amount of air in a sudden gulp. When they do that, they make a loud sound like a “whoop.” That is how the disease got its name.
Whooping cough lasts a long time, anywhere from four to six weeks. Even after that time, a child may continue to cough every once in a while for a few more weeks. To prevent whooping cough, all children should be given the whooping cough vaccine. And they should take booster shots if a friend or member of the family should get the condition. Once in a while, a grown-up who had whooping cough as a child may get a mild attack if he is exposed to the disease again.
Polio used to cripple more children than any other disease, but, fortunately, we have practically done away with the condition by giving polio vaccine. All children should get the vaccine when they’re just babies, and they should get booster doses at various times when they are older. Polio takes about one to two weeks to catch. It starts with a headache, sore throat, fever, vomiting, and pains in the muscles of the arms or legs. Within a couple of days, weakness of the muscles may be so severe that the child is unable to move an arm or leg, or even both arms and legs. If the weakness, or paralysis, of one or more of the limbs doesn’t clear up within a few days, it may be permanent. Isn’t it wonderful that we have practically conquered this terrible disease? And isn’t it a shame that every single child in the whole world isn’t given polio vaccine?
Smallpox is one of the most contagious of all diseases, and hundreds of years ago it would affect millions of people at the same time. Nowadays smallpox has been controlled by vaccination. It is so well controlled in most countries that cases seldom appear and, as a result, some doctors have stopped giving smallpox vaccinations. It takes one to two weeks to catch smallpox. The disease starts with a high fever, and the patients feel extremely weak. They then break out in a rash that looks very much like chicken pox, except that there are many more pockmarks and one blister may be located right next to another. Instead of the patients getting well in a few days, as they do with chicken pox, they get sicker for about a week.
Smallpox is a very serious disease and often damages the eyes or the brain. Unfortunately, the scabs don’t heal nicely, as they do in chicken pox, and patients who have recovered from smallpox usually have scars that will remain permanently. People get smallpox once only.
Scarlet fever is caused by a type of streptococcus germ that is much weaker than it used to be many years ago. In those days, a child with scarlet fever would have a very high fever, an extremely sore throat, nausea and vomiting, and would break out in a scarlet rash covering almost the entire body.
Peculiarly, the skin around the mouth was not affected by the rash, and a child would, therefore, look as if there were a ring around the lips. The child remained very sick for about a week. After that, the temperature would come down to normal and the rash would begin to fade. Then the skin would begin to flake and to peel. Sometimes it would look as if the child had dandruff all over his body.
Severe cases of scarlet fever used to damage the heart and sometimes the kidneys. As we mentioned before, scarlet fever today is so mild that a child might have a fever for only a day or two, a slight sore throat, and a light rash. No peeling results and the child feels fine about two to three days after first taking sick. There is a vaccination against scarlet fever, but doctors don’t use it because it makes children sicker than the condition itself.
This disease only affects infants and children under four years of age.