Keeping Children Healthy: A Provider’s Guide to Common Childhood Illnesses

Even with a strong sick-child policy in place and all the proper health precautions, children can and often do contract common illnesses in a childcare setting. Because childcare providers tend to spend so much time with the children under their care, having basic knowledge about these common conditions and the ability to spot them can be one of the more reliable methods of early detection. The earlier symptoms of an illness are recognized, the earlier a child can get treatment and be removed from a group childcare setting where he or she may pass the illness along to others.

Chicken Pox

While there is a vaccine for chicken pox available, some parents do opt to skip the vaccine out of personal beliefs regarding immunizations and others may not be able to receive it due to health complications. This can leave a host of unvaccinated children in a child care facility, and the chicken pox virus is often contagious well before the telltale skin irritation manifests. At the first sign of the distinctive rash, child care providers should contact parents to warn of possible exposure. Child care providers who did not contract the chicken pox virus as children themselves may also be susceptible to the illness, which has the potential to cause very serious complications in teens and adults.

Ear Infections

One of the most common afflictions among young children is the ear infection, and some children can be plagued with chronic recurrence. Often, ear infections occur in tandem with colds or upper respiratory infections, but can also occur with no other outward signs of illness. Children who are suffering from ear infections may sustain temporary hearing loss and run a fever as their bodies attempt to fight off the infection.

Fifth Disease

Some common childhood illnesses, like chicken pox, are often spoken of amongst parents and childcare providers. Others, like fifth disease, aren’t often mentioned unless children contract them.

The earliest signs of fifth disease are generally mild fever, a runny nose and a headache. Because low-grade fevers and runny noses aren’t entirely uncommon, parents and childcare providers can easily fail to recognize fifth disease until the attendant rash appears. This patchy redness can appear very similar to the redness which accompanies skin trauma, hence fifth disease being commonly referred to as “slapped cheek” rash. Most of the time, children recover from fifth disease within a few days and will have future immunity to the virus. In cases of a compromised immune system, however, serious complications can arise. Because of the slight potential for dangerous symptoms, it’s important for childcare providers to inform parents as soon as possible if they suspect a case of fifth disease.

Whooping Cough

As the number of parents who opt out of prescribed vaccinations increases, so do the cases of childhood illnesses which were previously thought to be well controlled. Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is one of those diseases.

Pertussis is a serious infection of the upper respiratory system which is accompanied by a harsh, distinctive cough followed by a wheezing sound as the sufferer attempts to breathe. Young children and infants can suffer very serious side effects as a result of pertussis infection, including permanent disability and even death. Symptoms generally take about a week to present after exposure, so childcare providers should be diligent about cleanliness and immediate notification if whooping cough is detected.


The earliest symptoms of roseola, a common viral infection, are red eyes, high fever, sore throat and runny nose. Fevers can spike as high as 105° and appear very suddenly. Roseola also causes the appearance of a red rash with very small, slightly-raised sores which typically do not itch. The rash generally starts to form on the torso, then gradually spreads to the extremities and face. From the date of exposure, the incubation period for roseola is typically between five and fifteen days.

How Child Care Providers Should Handle Common Childhood Illnesses

The first responsibility a child care provider has is to protect the children under their care from health and safety risks. When a caregiver suspects that one or more children may have contracted a common childhood illness, they should immediately take steps to separate the affected children and prepare to notify parents of possible exposure. The parents of visibly ill children should also be notified so they can pick their children up to limit exposure. Child care providers should always exercise basic hygiene rules to help prevent the spread of illness, frequently washing their hands and urging children to do the same.

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