Health Matters: 'My child is always sick,' a common problem

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Typically, as kids begin school or child care, parents notice their child is seemingly “always sick.”

This is a common complaint, and in almost all cases, they are relieved to find out there is nothing wrong with their child. In fact, many children, especially when entering a child-care or school setting for the first time, frequently get sick.

Parents are surprised to discover the average child who attends child care for the first time will get between 12 to 14 infections (either colds, or gastroenteritis) per year. For example, a four-year-old child may be sick more frequently than every month, and if each infection lasts about a week, the child can then seem to be sick all the time.

The reason is children who attend child care or school for the first time are exposed to many new germs in these settings. The good news is that as the years go by, children develop immunity or protection against these infections and are sick less often.
The obvious concern is whether there is an underlying problem making a child prone to such frequent infections. One important clue lies in whether a child is growing well, despite the repeated infections.

Fortunately, in most cases, these children grow normally, according to their growth curves. This is an important and reassuring find.

Another clue we look for is how severe the infections are— do they require hospitalization, such as for a severe pneumonia or infection of the blood? Fortunately, in most situations the infections are not serious and usually subside on their own. This pattern or trend helps reassure us and the parents the child has no underlying problem.

If there is a suspicion of something more serious, then further tests are necessary. Reassuringly, this is not the case in the majority of children with frequent infections.

Related

Since we are on the topic of infections, I want to also talk about how to prevent them.

The following tips can help prevent germs from spreading to you, your children and/or others:

  • Teach children at an early age to wash their hands after any contact with their mouth or nose, especially before and after meals or snacks, and after going to the bathroom;
  • Teach kids to cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing (with the sleeves or elbows);
  • Facial tissues should be used for runny noses/sneezes and immediately put in the garbage after each use;
  • Avoid kissing children on or around the mouth or face;
  • Dishes and utensils should be washed in hot, soapy water or in the dishwasher;
  • Children should not share pacifiers, cups, utensils, washcloths, towels or toothbrushes;
  • Disposable paper cups should be used in the bathroom and kitchen;
  • Disinfecting is important as some germs can live for more than 30 minutes on doorknobs, toilet handles, countertops and even on toys. Use a disinfectant or soap and hot water to keep these areas clean; and,
  • Parents and other caregivers should always wash their hands after changing a baby’s diaper.

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