Childhood Infection

Chickenpox – Measles – Mumps – Rubella – Pertussis

What and Why?

Most germs and viruses offer no threat to your children’s health but settle down as harmless inhabitants of their skin, nose, throat, ears or intestines; germs like these often contribute benefits of some kind in payment for full board and lodging. A few among them are however sufficiently aggressive to try colonizing a young body that has not met them before. Infectious illness is the result.

Most virus illnesses do not even have names. A cold or fever for a few days may be the only sign of trouble. A rash may appear next, indicating that the child has made a defensive antibody that is neutralizing the virus all over his body. Apart from this and a few swollen lymph glands you get to see very little of infections like these. The main thing is not to panic when they happen: heavy symptoms indicate a strong recovery effort, which is obviously a good thing.

The ones that have names are distinctive enough to be recognized, and several were once notorious. For example, it was important to distinguish chickenpox from smallpox because one is dangerous, the other is not. Measles used to kill many small children in Britain, and still does in many developing countries. Mumps is easy to spot and could prevent you from having children, which was even more important historically than it is now.


This brews up within three weeks of infection. General illness is usually mild. Crops of small red spots arrive successively, mostly on the body. Each crop matures in turn to form small blisters on a red base, each containing highly infectious fluid. The blisters burst leaving much less infectious scabs. School exclusion is for a minimum of seven days, but in practice once the scabs have fallen off the child is no longer infectious.

The only common complication is painful spots in the mouth. Ease these by sucking ice, then rinsing with Potassium Chlorate and Phenol Gargle (diluted with an equal part of hot water). Comfrey stems or leaves can be chewed to form soft mucilage in the mouth that will act like a poultice to the skin with the sorest ulcers and help to heal them.

The chief problem is itching. The blisters are confined to the top layer of the skin and will heal without scarring provided you do not scratch and deepen them. Keep cool, apply Calamine Lotion (reinforced with Phenol 1% ideally, but keep this off lips, eyes and genital skin) whenever necessary, and take an antihistamine such as Piriton at bedtime.


This remains a miserable feverish catarrhal illness capable sometimes of inflaming the brain coverings (meningitis). It is supposedly caught by inhaling droplets coughed out by someone just entering the illness, incubates for two weeks and breaks out as catarrh, fever and misery lasting about five days. The rash then appears as deep red blotches around the neck and chest but spreading into an irregular sheet. As the rash spreads, the illness subsides. Immunization is available as MMR vaccine, but we consider single vaccine (national policy between 1968—1988) to be safer and more effective.

Catarrhal complications include earache and bronchitis. Occasionally the muscles inside the eye are affected so that bright light dazzles: severe headache or a victim too ill to be miserable calls for an urgent visit by the doctor. He should be told about every case, whether or not his help is needed, since all cases must be notified officially to the Public health authorities. Immunization is available as MMR vaccine, but we now question the wisdom of this.


This is an unusual virus because it prefers the substance of soft glands — usually the salivary glands around the mouth but occasionally pancreas, testes or ovaries. If these are involved they are weakened for life, so the disease is worth taking seriously.

It takes three weeks to develop after contact with saliva from a victim, although it may develop in other ways (see Infection). Earache may precede it but swelling that obscures the back of the jaw gives it away (you can still feel the jaw line in front of swollen lymph glands). The mouth is dry and unsavoury; salivation makes the gland hurt. After a day or two a child victim seems better, but relapse or spread can easily occur if he becomes more active: rest is the only protection against this. Physical activity must be minimal until no new swelling has occurred for several days. Children can return to school once all swellings have gone; adults may need longer to regain their normal stamina. Immunization comes with MMR vaccine, available from age 15 months, though we have our reservations about this.

German Measles (Rubella)

This brief, faint prickly rash only lasts three days and is easily missed. It starts three weeks after contact with no illness at all. A few rubbery lymph glands may appear at the base of the skull behind the ears: if so, they outlast the rash by several weeks.

Rubella may handicap the newly conceived baby in an unprotected mother (under four months of pregnancy): mental handicap, profound deafness, cataracts and heart defects are typical. Vaccination of girls has been available for years early in adolescence. MMR vaccination is now being offered at 15 months to everyone. We think the old arrangement was better.

Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

This is not common now but very exhausting and prolonged when it occurs. It begins within a week of infection with catarrh and coughing which gradually become more severe, lasts for weeks, and can permanently harm the lungs of a young child.

What can I do?

Advice to maintain and maximise health

1. Keep healthy in general. Even if infection is inevitable, illness isn’t — it depends on your health when infected. Live raw food every day, and perhaps supplements of food-state Vitamin C, add very much to your protection — especially in winter. See also Immunity.

2. Breast fed infants are far better protected from infectious illness than bottle fed, especially in those first few vulnerable months. Breast feeding dose not, as it happens, convey specific protection against whooping-cough, but it does give the baby supplies of all other antibodies mother has collected in her life.

3. The immunizations that are available ate now offered far too young and indiscriminantly, in our opinion. Six months, or weaning age if later, is quite soon enough so long as the baby is looked after at home until then; mother should think seriously before using a child-minding service up to that age. If you choose to delay or decline immunisations, do take adequate alternative precautions (see Whooping Cough)

4. Once a child is ill do not press food on him. Offer restorative drinks like home-made Lemon Barley Water or Honey Cider Vinegar. Encourage rest and sleep. Allow fever to run during the day, at a moderate level.

5. Limit cross-infection within your household by having separate facecloths, towels and table napkins for each member. Ventilate the house well. Do not encourage mouth-to-mouth kissing or close contact with an infected member.

6. Always inform neighbours and playmates when you have an infection in the house. They may want their children to catch it, they may not.

7. If a child is too ill to complain, seems in pain, vomits a lot, develops little blood spots on the skin, is delirious or very bothered by light — seek medical aid urgently.

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