baby illness

Prevention and treatment of baby illness and disease

baby illness

If a child gains weight at a constant and not excessive rate, is active and alert, eats and sleeps well and is developing steadily it can be assumed that he is healthy. He may, of course, throughout childhood, suffer from some minor ailments adults have, such as coughs, colds, influenza, respiratory problems, upset tummy and earache, as well as teething problems, etc. Most of these can be dealt with at home with simple treatments and sympathetic nursing.

Two points to remember are:

Young children never pretend to be ill. When ill they show it with some of the symptoms described on 184-7, but when they are better they immediately wish to be up and about.

Children usually have very rapid powers of recovery. They can appear to be quite seriously ill and within a short space of time – a few hours or overnight – be better.

The best way of dealing with illness is to try to prevent it. This can be done by:

  • having a healthy diet.
  • keeping the child and his environment clean and teaching him hygienic habits.
  • keeping him away from possible infectious contacts.
  • regular medical and dental checkups.
  • not ignoring suspicious symptoms.
  • following a suggested immunisation schedule 183), which can be discussed with the doctor or health visitor at the clinic.

Baby Disease and illness are caused by:


These are single-celled organisms, invisible to the naked eye, some of which live harmlessly in various parts of the body and our surroundings. When we are run down, our internal bacteria can multiply and give rise to infections such as sore throats, upset tummies, etc. It is more usual, however, for diseases to be caused by bacteria entering the body from another source. Diphtheria and whooping cough are caused in this way.


These are parasites that live and reproduce in other living cells, breaking down these cells. They cause such infections as measles, influenza and the common cold, and cannot be treated with antibiotics.


These are plant organisms, some of which cause such things as ringworm (a skin disease that appears in circular patches).

Metazoan parasites

These are such things as tapeworms, fleas and lice, which feed on the human body and can cause infections.

Infection can be spread in various ways. Droplets containing the bacteria or viruses can spread from infected people when they breathe out, cough or sneeze. Water contaminated by bacteria or viruses can cause diseases such as typhoid or polio, and food can be contaminated by flies, mice, rats, etc. Skin diseases such as impetigo (which causes infected sores) can be passed on by skin contact, and bites from insects can give infections such as malaria. Pets can transmit diseases such as rabies by biting victims, or pass on parasites such as tapeworms through their faeces. Inadequate diet will result in deficiency diseases, and constant damp and cold conditions will result in respiratory problems.

It is clear, therefore, that a consistently high standard of hygiene is needed to maintain good health. Children should be taught the basic rules of hygiene and healthy living from the minute they can understand, and these rules should be constantly reinforced by reminders and good example, until they become automatic.

Rules for hygiene and health should include:

  • a daily bath if possible (or a good strip wash) with washing during the day whenever necessary.
  • washing of hands after going to the toilet, blowing the nose, doing any messy jobs, before meals, etc.
  • care of nails on hands and feet, and keeping them clean.
  • frequent washing, brushing and combing of hair.
  • cleaning and regular replacement of equipment needed for care of the body e.g., toothbrush, hair-brush, flannel, etc.
  • regular changing and laundering of clothing, especially underwear.
  • care with the preparation and eating of food and liquids. Food and drink which has already been partly consumed by other children, or dropped on the floor, or come out of dusty pockets, etc., should not be eaten.
  • care with pets and animals. Avoid getting too close to an animal’s mouth, or playing where animals may have urinated (e.g., in parks or on benches). Feeding dishes and equipment for pets should be kept separate from those of the family.
  • avoiding contact with adults or other children who may have infections such as coughs, colds, skin diseases, etc.
  • building up a good resistance to disease with a sensible diet and plenty of fresh air, exercise, rest and sleep.

A child should be encouraged to have a good mental attitude towards health, and be taught not to worry too much about minor aches and pains.

It is possible for a child to be protected from some diseases by being given some form of immunity. If he has some form of the disease naturally he will build up his own immunity by the formation of antibodies in his bloodstream, which attack and kill off the virus or bacteria that caused the disease. Immunity to some diseases will be passed on to a breast-fed baby for the first few weeks of life through his mother’s milk.

Immunity can also be given by artificial immunisation. A vaccine is injected into the body, or taken in by mouth, to provide the necessary antibodies. Passive immunisation gives the child antibodies to the disease that have been developed in another human, or in an animal. Unfortunately this protection soon wears off. Active immunisation means that the weakened strain of the disease is injected into the child, so triggering off the body to form its own antibodies.

The infectious diseases for which a vaccine is available are diphtheria, polio, whooping cough, tetanus, tuberculosis, measles and German measles. Before the advent of immunisation most of these diseases were killers, or left the sufferer with a permanent weakness. Since immunisation became widely available, epidemics of these diseases are less frequent, with less drastic results. Unfortunately many parents feel that as their child is now less likely to have one of these infectious diseases, they need not bother to have him vaccinated. This means that there is more risk of epidemics starting. All parents should have their children immunised unless there are medical reasons against it.

It has been shown that an extremely small proportion of children given whooping cough vaccine have suffered permanent brain damage. The risk is very small: the risk of a child dying or suffering from convulsions, pneumonia, collapsed lungs or even brain damage as a result of whooping cough is far greater. In the ten years up to 1984, 82 children died from whooping cough in the UK. Parents who are worried should discuss the matter with their doctor or health visitor.

Common signs which indicate that a child may be ill are:

  • listlessness and lethargy (having no energy).
  • a raised temperature.
  • headache or earache.
  • crying and being miserable.
  • going off his food, not eating.
  • stomach ache, vomiting.
  • diarrhoea or constipation.
  • inflammation and swelling of glands and throat.
  • pains and stiffness in joints.
  • various types of rash on various parts of the body.
  • a very flushed or very pale face.
  • being hot and perspiring.
  • laboured breathing, wheezing, or shallow breathing.

Many of these symptoms, although distressing for the child, are not serious anc will soon clear up. Only if the symptoms persist or become severe is a doctor needed.

A doctor should be called immediately if the child:

  • is unconscious – from a fall or any other reason.
  • is bleeding and the bleeding cannot be stopped.
  • turns a bluish colour, especially at the lips.
  • has a fit or convulsion.