The up­sides to child­hood ill­nesses

Lesotho Times - - Health -

IT’S that time of year when no­body, es­pe­cially chil­dren, seems to stay healthy.

Of course, no­body likes to be sick, and there’s no ques­tion that chil­dren should be vac­ci­nated and spared scourges such as measles, whoop­ing cough and diph­the­ria. For com­mon dis­eases for which there are no vac­cines, such as strep throat, par­ents should try to pro­tect their chil­dren from ex­po­sure by keep­ing them away from in­fected in­di­vid­u­als.

But are there some dis­eases that might ac­tu­ally be good for chil­dren to get? Viruses or bac­te­ria that cause only mild in­fec­tion in young peo­ple, but give them im­mu­nity from the same or more se­ri­ous in­fec­tions later in life?

The an­swer is yes, but the list is short. The com­mon cold and ear in­fec­tions may be among the not so bad -- and pos­si­bly even good -- ill­nesses.

“It’s not good for chil­dren to get most in­fec­tions,” said Neal Halsey, pe­di­a­tri­cian and pro­fes­sor in the Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Pub­lic Health. “But we do un­der­stand that try­ing to pro­tect them from all in­fec­tions is not nec­es­sar­ily ben­e­fi­cial to the child, be­cause there is some pretty good ev­i­dence now that the hy­giene hy­poth­e­sis is cor­rect.”

This hy­poth­e­sis posits that chil­dren who grow up with­out ex­po­sure to com­mon bac­te­ria and viruses in the en­vi­ron­ment could be more likely to de­velop al­ler­gies and au­toim­mune dis­eases.

How­ever, ex­perts ar­gue that even bugs that cause seem­ingly harm­less in­fec­tion are not al­ways so be­nign.

“I’ve seen chil­dren de­velop dev­as­tat­ing and even fa­tal dis­ease from (cold and ear in­fec­tions),” said Dr. Mark R. Sch­leiss, pro­fes­sor of pe­di­atric in­fec­tious dis­eases and im­munol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Min­nesota Med­i­cal School.

“In all cases, it would be bet­ter to have a vac­cine, and (the cold, ear in­fec­tions, fifth dis­ease) all have vac­cines in re­search and de­vel­op­ment.”

In the end, par­ents should try to pro­tect their chil­dren from dis­eases, be­cause in al­most ev­ery case (ex­cept per­haps the cold), preven­tion is pos­si­ble, even if there is no vac­cine yet. But if your child gets sick, de­spite your best ef­forts, there could be some up­sides. The com­mon cold No­body likes the runny nose, sneez­ing, fever and cough that come with the cold. Preschool-age chil­dren and kinder­gart­ners get about nine to 12 colds a year, re­spec­tively, com­pared with teens and adults, who get about seven. “You don’t want to try to pro­tect your child against ev­ery com­mon cold be­cause you can’t,” Halsey said.

On the bright side, the re­cur­ring snif­fles that in­evitably plague young chil­dren do help pre­vent sick­ness when they are older. We de­velop im­mu­nity against the cold virus when we are in­fected and that keeps us from get­ting sick with the same virus again, at least for a few years.

Sadly, though, we will prob­a­bly never be to­tally im­mune to the com­mon cold. There are about 200 dif­fer­ent strains of viruses -- many of which are a type of rhi­novirus or ade­n­ovirus -- that cause the cold. So while we may get fewer colds as we age, there are prob­a­bly still some out there that can get us. Ear in­fec­tions Day care can be a breed­ing ground for ear in­fec­tions. Re­search sug­gests the on­slaught of ear in­fec­tions hits chil­dren when they are in a large group set­ting for the first time, whether it is in day care or later, when they go to kinder­garten. Ex­perts have ar­gued it is bet­ter for chil­dren to get th­ese in­fec­tions over with early, be­fore they are fur­ther along in school and need to be present to learn to read or take on other im­por­tant sub­jects.

“The vast ma­jor­ity of kids get some ear in­fec­tions, some get mul­ti­ple in­fec­tions ... but you want to re­duce the risk,” be­cause they can cause tem­po­rary hear­ing prob­lems, Halsey said. Bac­te­ria, such as pneu­mo­coc­cus, cause most ear in­fec­tions, so ex­perts rec­om­mend the pneu­mo­coc­cal vac­cine as well as the flu vac­cine. (The flu virus can spread into the ear.) But if a child gets an ear in­fec­tion, par­ents and pe­di­a­tri­cians should mon­i­tor them rather than rush to treat with an­tibi­otics. Many in­fec­tions can clear up on their own, and an­tibi­otics can have side ef­fects, such as dis­rupt­ing the good bac­te­ria of the gut, Halsey said.

Al­though it is bet­ter to pre­vent ear in­fec­tions in the first place, hav­ing one may help pre­vent pneu­mo­nia down the road. The pneu­mo­coc­cal vac­cine pro­tects against 13 types of pneu­mo­coc­cus, but there are 80 oth­ers out there. If the in­fec­tion is caused by one of those, it could help the child de­velop ad­di­tional im­mu­nity and pos­si­bly pro­tect them against pneu­mo­nia, said Dr. Mar­garet K. Hostet­ter, pro­fes­sor and chair of pediatrics at Cincin­nati Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal Med­i­cal Cen­ter.

Chick­en­pox: Get the vac­cine in­stead

There is a mis­con­cep­tion that it’s good to ex­pose chil­dren to chick­en­pox, such as by send­ing them to chick­en­pox par­ties, to keep them from get­ting sick as adults.

“That made sense be­fore we had a vac­cine ... but it is so much bet­ter to in­duce that im­mu­nity (with a vac­cine) with­out go­ing through the risk of in­fec­tion and com­pli­ca­tions of the dis­ease, “Halsey said. “That’s the magic of vac­cines.”

Pos­si­ble com­pli­ca­tions of chick­en­pox in­fec­tion in chil­dren in­clude skin in­fec­tions, pneu­mo­nia and en­cephali­tis, which is in­flam­ma­tion of the brain that can cause fa­tigue, weak­ness and even paral­y­sis.

The Cen­tres for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion does not rec­om­mend the chick­en­pox vac­cine for chil­dren younger than 12 months, so par­ents should do every­thing they can to avoid ex­pos­ing ba­bies to the virus, Halsey said. Ba­bies who get in­fected have a higher risk of de­vel­op­ing painful shin­gles dur­ing child­hood. — CNN

Com­pli­ca­tions of chick­en­pox in­fec­tion in chil­dren in­clude skin in­fec­tions, pneu­mo­nia and en­cephali­tis.

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