Childhood Infections Explained - Physician Blog Article By Chase Leo

Childhood Infections Explained

Childhood Infections

Colds are the most common infection in children and spread rapidly due to poor hand washing practices and the sharing of food and toys. Colds will most often present with a runny nose, cough, nasal congestion, and a sore throat. The child might also complain of a headache, body aches, and low-grade fever.  Viruses cause colds, and therefore antibiotics are not indicated in treatment. Treatment is reserved for symptom relief, including rest, increased fluid intake, and analgesics. Symptoms peak in the first two days of exposure to the virus and last seven to ten days.

Ear infections are the second most common infections in children. Symptoms include irritability and tugging at the affected ear. Children may run a fever, and in the case of a perforated tympanic membrane, there may be purulent discharge noted. Treatment consists of pain relief with an analgesic, and symptoms will typically resolve in two to three days. If symptoms persist, antibiotic therapy using amoxicillin or amoxicillin/clavulanate is usually recommended for ten days.

Infections are quite common in children and can often lead to various health issues and illnesses. A child who spends most of their time at home is more protected from infections than a child in school or daycare. Children who spend much time in public where they are exposed to many people are more susceptible to infections. However, a child that stays at home most of the day is also prone to infections.

Although it is not possible to deter all infections, many can be prevented. As well, knowing the early symptom of the most common infections can sometimes lead to early recovery and may help prevent spreading the infection.

Infections are most common in children because they are learning personal hygiene, and they have immune systems that have not completely developed. Childhood infections can cause rashes, fevers, coughs, and other symptoms that cause discomfort and require pediatrician visits. These infections are caused by bacteria and viruses.

Some common bacterial childhood infections include bladder and urinary tract infections, ear infections and strep throat. The common cold, croup and the flu are viral infections that are prevalent in children. Diarrhea and pink eye, which can be caused by both bacteria and viruses, are other common childhood infections.

Young children are most prone to a variety of infections and get sick more often than adults because they have not yet developed immunity to the infectious agents that cause childhood diseases. School-aged children are also very prone to catching infectious diseases from their peers at daycare or in school. There are vaccines available to prevent some childhood infections and their complications. Many of these immunizations are given in the first year to protect infants against serious health problems, but vaccines are given at different times throughout childhood. Vaccines can provide protection against both bacterial and viral infections.

Bacterial Infections

Bacterial infections are generally easier to treat than viral infections, because bacteria are susceptible to antibiotic medications and viruses are not. Bacteria are free-living single-celled organisms, while viruses are not self-sufficient; they depend on the cells in our body in order to reproduce. Some examples of childhood infections caused by bacterial agents include pertussis (whooping cough), strep throat, bacterial meningitis, bacterial pneumonia and bacterial ear infections. Bacterial infections are usually treatable with antibiotics. However, some bacteria are resistant to certain types of antibiotics. MRSA, or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, is an example of a common infectious bacterium that has developed resistance to several antibiotic medications and recently become a public health threat.

Viral Infections

Some common viral infections of childhood include chickenpox, mononucleosis (mono), influenza, the common cold, and RSV. Although sometimes antiviral medications are given in some cases, this is not a routine occurrence. Antiviral medications do not cure a viral infection like antibiotics may cure a bacterial infection, but they generally slow down replicating the virus. Most of the time, the best treatment of a childhood viral infection is to treat the symptoms that may arise and let the infection play its course. For example, diseases like chickenpox will go away on their own after a few weeks, but the blisters caused by the disease can be treated with topical lotions to reduce itching.

Other Infections Types

Fungal infections and parasitic infections are not as common as bacterial and viral infections. Fungal infections such as ringworm and thrush may occur in young children. Parasitic diseases, such as malaria, are more common in children in undeveloped countries around the world.

Treatment Options and Recovery Periods
The treatment options for a childhood infection depends on the type of infection. Bacterial infections in children like ear infections and bladder and urinary tract infections are typically treated with antibiotics in the form of pills. Pediatricians usually treat pink eye with an antibiotic eye drop or an antibiotic ointment. Patients typically start to feel better within 48 to 72 hours of starting antibiotic treatment.

Antibiotics are not effective against viral infections, so the treatment options for these infections are different. To treat a cold, a pediatrician will typically recommend acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce a fever. A pediatrician may also prescribe saline nose drops to infants with colds. A person with a cold typically feels back to normal within one or two weeks.

Specific Childhood Infections


Conjunctivitis is a bacterial infection that is highly contagious and is spread through direct contact with a person carrying the bacteria. The eyelids will have purulent discharge, the conjunctiva reddened, and the eyelids may stick together after awakening in the morning. Treatment consists of a broad-spectrum antibiotic such as erythromycin ointment or polymyxin-trimethoprim drops for seven to ten days. Symptoms should clear within two days of initiation of antibiotic therapy.

Conjunctivitis is an infection of the lining of the white part of the eye and eyelid. It can be caused by infection, environmental agents or allergies. A conjunctivitis infection is highly contagious and common in daycares. It can also be caused by viral infections like measles, a cold, herpes, or severe respiratory infection. Although treatment varies depending on the type of conjunctivitis infection, warm compresses on the infected eye help ease soreness and irritation. It is recommended to consult a physician to determine the type of virus for proper treatment. Depending on the type of virus, if appropriately treated, conjunctivitis can be remedied in 2 to14 days.


  • Redness
  • Scratchy eyes
  • Swelling of eyelids
  • Mild to severe eye discomfort
  • Discharge; watery, green or yellow
  • Lymph nodes near the ear can be swollen


Impetigo is a contagious bacterial skin infection that is spread in the school or daycare setting. This infection presents with vesicles, yellow crusting and pruritic. Good skin hygiene is the primary treatment and topical antibiotics such as mupirocin will hasten resolution of symptoms. The ointment is applied to the affected area three times a day for seven days and the lesions should resolve within that time frame.

Strep Throat

Strep throat presents as a sore throat without accompanying cold symptoms of nasal congestion and discharge. The posterior oropharynx will be eurythmic and discrete exudates may be noted on the tonsils. Cervical adenopathy is generally present, and the child may have a fever. Confirmation is done with a rapid antigen test at the bedside. In confirmed cases of A Streptococcus bacteria analgesics are recommended for pain control and antibiotic therapy using penicillin VK, penicillin G benzathine or amoxicillin for 10 days is indicated. Resolution of symptoms should be seen within two to three days.


Croup is a viral infection that causes the voice box and windpipe to swell, leading to a barking cough and a fever. A pediatrician commonly recommends 15 to 20-minute steam baths, cold water humidification, and steroids of severe infections. Most patients recover from croup within three to four days.

Serious cases of the flu are treated with antiviral medications, but the typical treatment includes hydration, sleep, and acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce fever and aches. A cough and a feeling of weakness may continue for one or two weeks, but fever and other flu symptoms typically disappear within five days.


Diarrhea is caused by either a bacterial or viral infection in the inner lining of the intestine. A pediatrician may recommend that a patient stays hydrated with an electrolyte solution and takes an antidiarrheal medication. Most cases of diarrhea clear up within 24 to 48 hours.


Bronchiolitis is an acute viral infection of the small breathing tubes of the lungs called bronchioles. It is a common virus in infants due to their small air passages that easily block. Most children recover from bronchiolitis in one to two weeks. Mild symptoms can be treated with plenty of fluids, rest and a cool air humidifier. Infants and toddlers who are having extreme breathing problems may need to go to the hospital for oxygen and help in opening the airways.


  • Fever
  • Wheezing
  • Difficult breathing
  • Persistent cough that worsens at night


Colds are viral infections that affect the upper respiratory system such as the nose, sinuses, throat and bronchial tubes. Although there is no cure for the common cold it can be treated with plenty of liquids, rest, and a cool mist humidifier. A cold generally lasts about two weeks.


  • Sneezing
  • Headache
  • Slight fever
  • Watery eyes
  • Minor cough
  • No appetite
  • Stuffy or runny nose

Flu (Influenza)

Influenza is a highly contagious respiratory illness that attacks cells in the upper respiratory tract. Rarely causes gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea or upset stomach; these symptoms are generally caused by other viruses like E (Escherichia) coli or rotavirus. Symptoms are abrupt, intense, and evident, which can last from two days to two weeks. The flu can be treated with bed rest, plenty of liquids, steam vapor, and nourishing food.


  •  Fever
  •  Chills
  •  Fatigue
  •  Headache
  •  Hoarse cough
  •  Aching body