Common childhood illnesses: How to spot them

Monday June 1 2020


By Salome Gregory

Seeing your child sick and in pain can often be a parent’s worst nightmare, and it’s easy to assume the worst. Whether it’s from coming into contact with other infected children or adults, or because children tend to put every object they see in their mouth, sickness is almost inevitable.

This was the case of Noela Joseph, a businesswoman based in Dar es Salaam, and a parent to 2-year-old Jonas. It was four hours since Jonas started vomiting. It was the third time now.

He had no fever. He was not crying. He refused to eat anything. He was only drinking water and juice.

Noela called the family doctor and shared about her son’s condition. The doctor asked her to give it four more hours before she calls again for her to share the updates.

The doctor predicted Jonas might be having a viral infection which might stabilise on its own after 48 hours.

According to Noela, the doctor insisted on giving her son a lot of water and juice as she also tries to feed her son at every two hours interval. The doctor advised the food should be in small intake as the infection affects his appetite.


Given the fact that there is a lot of fear due to the pandemic, Noela couldn’t seem to relax and take doctors’ advice. She quickly grabbed her son soon as he finished to vomit for the fourth time and found her way to the hospital.

“There is no way I could have just sat back and wait for a day to pass as I monitor my son from home. I was not comfortable as I was worried what if my son’s symptoms got worse at night and I would not have been able to reach the hospital on time,” Noela feared.

Upon her arrival at the hospital, the doctor still insisted that it is just a viral infection where by the symptoms will better within after 48 hours. But Noela insisted for malaria and urine check-ups thinking her son has any of the two or even both. The results came out negative.

Dr Robert Paul, a Paediatrician at Arafa hospital in Tabata Segerea tells Your Health that viral infection affects even adults, however, for children and infants is a big challenge. He says most children get better without treatment unless it has different and severe symptoms.

According to Dr Paul, the common symptoms for a viral infection include vomiting, fever, rashes, sore throat and diarrhoea. And most of the viral infection does not need a laboratory test to identify it as a viral.

“Most of the infections tend to go away after 24 hours. However some viral infections, which includes different types of viruses like hepatitis, influenza and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) need special attention,” he adds.

He says most of the viral infection can last for up to three days but parents shouldn’t worry if a child can still play and eat even small portions. It is still okay. Parents should only worry if a child has serious fever that starts from 38 degrees celsius.

Children constantly seem to be catching something. If it isn’t a cold or a dribbly nose of some sort, they may be complaining of a tummy ache, scratching at something or pulling their ears in pain. The good news is, most of the problems you’ll come up against are just an everyday part of growing up, Dr Paul further explains.

Dr Paul and Dr Suzzane Nkya, paediatricians based in Dar es Salaam explainthe best ways to spot common illnesses and how to keep your child smiling, healthy and happy.

Some of the common childhood illnesses are:


Dr Paul explains that this is a common lung infection affecting infants and children, typically around flu/winter season.

Bronchiolitis starts out with symptoms similar to those of a common cold, but then progresses to coughing, wheezing and sometimes difficulty breathing. Symptoms of bronchiolitis can last for several days to weeks.

Most children get better with care at home. A small percentage of children require hospitalisation.

A parent is advised to monitor a child closely and make sure a child eats and drinks well. If a child develops any kind of difficulty in breathing, a parent has to go to the hospital for further check-up.

Bronchiolitis occurs when a virus infects the bronchioles, which are the smallest airways in your lungs..

This infection affects children from age 2 and below. Infants aged 3 to 9 months are in a danger of being infected.

Sore throat

The experts explain that sore throat is a common problem during childhood and is usually the result of a bacterial or viral infection. Although sore throat usually resolves without complications, it sometimes requires treatment with an antibiotic.

A sore throat is pain, scratchiness or irritation of the throat that often worsens when you swallow.

With this infection no specific medication is given, it is until a child goes for the laboratory test.

With this kind of infection a parent is advised to make sure his or her child is taking the medication as prescribed to make a room for the treatment to take place at the required time.

Majority of people fail to differentiate between sore throat and tonsillitis and this is a reason why a parent should go to the hospital soon after a child develops sore throat which doesn’t get better within 7 to ten days.

Blood infection

According to Dr Nkya, blood infection in children is caused by the bacteria which enters the body through the bloodstream.

For some children this can take up to 48 hours to get back to normal with no medical treatment given.

However the situation varies from child to child. Some children go through severe diarrhoea and vomiting as well as high fever. If this happens to a new born baby, it can result to sepsis infection, which needs special care and a child can be admitted at the hospital for about two weeks.

It’s symptoms include high fever that goes up to 40 degrees celsius and a child might not be able to breastfeed. For some cases children tend to change colour into yellowish due to lack of food as they are not able to suck breastmilk. With this infection, parents are advised to pay extra attention to their children and report any slight difference in their child’s condition.

Common cold

Common cold are caused by different types of viruses and it is expected for a child to get common cold more than four times a year. The symptoms include sneezing, cough and the increase of mucus production, unable to sleep and watery eyes. Children do get infection from people with cold. It is advised to see a doctor if this infection does not get better in two days.

Ear infection

Ear infection may not be very common to children but it affects a big number of children and may result to teeth pain and the headache.

This infection affects the ear canal. This has to be reported to the doctor as soon as it starts, to avoid more problems in the ear. An Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist is among other specialists your child might need to see if serious measures will not be taken from the beginning.

Ear infection is caused by a bacteria, which result to fluid in ear that cannot drain itself normally and most of the times it happens when a child has cold or allergy.

Children between 6 months and 2-years-old are at high risk of getting this infection and about 25 per cent tend to repeat the infection if the condition will not be well managed. The symptoms of the ear infection includes fever, poor sleep, loss of appetite and irritability.

Skin infection

Skin infection differs from infection to infection. However, the common skin infection include erysipelas, folliculitis and furuncles.

Symptoms varies from types of infection but the common symptoms includes itching, watery skin, pale skin and rashes. The most challenging part of skin disease is that it is very easy to be transmitted form one child to another if they are sharing soaps, clothes or toys.

A child may play victim from the people she\he lives with. If the infection still continues for more than a week, it’s advised to see a dermatologist.

Skin treatment can take up to six months and it also depends with how big the skin problem is.

Tips for parents

• Avoid people who are ill when you have a newborn: It’s totally acceptable to cancel plans with people who are sick when you have a tiny baby, especially if they were born prematurely.

Newborns are super susceptible to getting ill and their immune systems aren’t fully developed yet, so a polite ‘we’ll leave it until you’re better thanks’ is fine.

• Get child immunisations

Newborn babies have some immunity thanks to antibodies passing to them from you via the placenta (called passive immunity) in the last three months of pregnancy. The bad news is that it doesn’t last long.

In fact, passive immunity will start to decrease after the first few weeks or months. This is why your baby will have their first childhood immunisations at two months old.