7 Common Contagious Diseases in Childhood

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Healthgrades Editorial Staff on November 7, 2020
  • Primary Schoolgirl Resting
    Childhood Illnesses
    Any number of things can make a child sick. This includes bacteria, viruses and parasites. And every parent knows that some illnesses spread from child-to-child like wildfire. But why do kids seem to get sick more often than adults? First, kids often put objects in their mouths. They also don’t wash their hands after touching things that might carry germs. Children also can't fight off infection as well as adults can. Here's what you need to know about common contagious diseases of childhood.
  • Little girl blows her nose
    1. Colds
    Children miss more school because of a cold than for any other contagious disease. More than 200 viruses can cause a cold—or upper respiratory infection. Most kids six and younger get 6 to 10 colds every year. They might get more if they're in day care. Older children usually get fewer colds. Kids can catch a cold by direct contact with an ill child or from someone's coughing or sneezing. Symptoms develop in about two days and will be over in about a week.
  • Child with stomach pain
    2. Stomach Flu
    Many viruses cause stomach flu—or viral gastroenteritis. The main symptoms are diarrhea, vomiting, stomachache and fever. Stomach flu is the most common cause of diarrhea in children younger than five. It takes about two days for symptoms to start and they last about 10 days. Children with the stomach flu can become dehydrated fast. Ask a doctor about what type fluids they should drink. Stomach flu spreads by being in close contact with someone who has it or from contaminated food or drink. The best way to prevent it is frequent hand washing.
  • ill allergic eyes - conjunctivitis
    3. Pinkeye
    Pinkeye—or conjunctivitis—makes your eye look pink from inflamed blood vessels. The eye may itch, burn, get crusty, and shed tears. Viruses and bacteria cause pinkeye and it spreads easily from child to child, as well to other household members. Pinkeye often goes away without treatment, but a doctor may prescribe eye drops. Call a doctor if symptoms last more than a few days, the eye gets red, or your child complains of bad pain, blurry vision, or sensitivity to light. Being a good hand washer is the best way to avoid pinkeye.
  • Sick boy child
    4. Fifth Disease
    Children with fifth disease—or erythema infectiosum—have redness on the cheeks that looks like a slap mark. It's actually a rash. Other symptoms are a runny nose, headache, sore throat, low fever, and red eyes. The rash appears about 7 to 10 days after the other symptoms. A virus causes the disease and it spreads by contact with mucous or saliva. Usually, fifth disease is mild and goes away on its own. But, call a doctor if your child's joints swell. Washing hands is the best way to prevent fifth disease.
  • Woman inspect childs head for lice
    5. Head Lice
    Head lice are tiny insects that feed on blood from the scalp. They also lay eggs—or nits—on the scalp. Head lice spread through head-to-head contact. Luckily, lice do not cause any serious disease, but they do cause itching. And itching is the only symptom. You can see lice and nits by looking closely as you comb through your child’s hair. You can get rid of lice with over-the-counter treatments. However, you might need to use the treatment more than once.
  • Folliculitis On Child's Foot
    6. Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease
    Hand, foot and mouth disease gets its name from the blister-like rash that appears on a child's hands, feet and mouth. It is a common disease in children younger than 10. A virus causes it and it spreads by contact with mucous, saliva, blisters and feces. Besides the rash, children may have a fever, runny nose, and sore throat. Doctors treat it with lots of fluids and medication to lower fever. To prevent spreading it, wash hands well and be careful when handling diapers.
  • Indian Boy Teenager coughing sneezing
    7. Whooping Cough
    Most children are vaccinated for whooping cough—or pertussis. Still, almost 50,000 U.S. children had it in 2012. That’s the most since 1955. The vaccine wears off over time, so older kids and pregnant women may need a booster. Symptoms start like a cold. But, after a week or two, violent coughing fits that make a "whooping" sound begin. It is very contagious and spreads through coughs and sneezes. Babies who catch it can become very sick. Talk to your doctor to make sure all vaccinations are current.
7 Common Contagious Diseases in Childhood
  1. Cold in Children. Boston Children’s Hospital. http://www.childrenshospital.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions/cold
  2. Fifth Disease (Parvovirus B19). American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/skin/Pages/Fifth-Disease-Parvovirus-B19.aspx
  3. Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (Coxsackie viral infection). New York State Department of Health. http://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/hand_foot_mouth/fact_sheet.htm
  4. Head Lice: What Parents Need to Know. American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/from-insects-animals/Pages/Signs-of-Lice.aspx
  5. Pertussis (Whooping Cough) Fast Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/Pertussis/fast-facts.html
  6. Pink Eye: Usually Mild and Easy to Treat. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/features/conjunctivitis/
  7. Protect Babies from Whooping Cough (Pertussis). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/features/pertussis/
  8. Viral Gastroenteritis. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/digestive-diseases/viral-gastroenteritis/...
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Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 7
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