5 childhood health problems you need to know about

Lice is not the only surprise your little ones can bring home from daycare or school.

16 May 2018
By Glynis Horning

Even parents who enthusiastically over-share details of their baby’s bowel movements and projectile posseting can be quiet when it comes to some unpleasant problems new parents need to know about.

In fact, like lice – which are as likely to infest freshly washed hair as dirty – they have little to do with your family’s hygiene, and everything to do with close contact with other kids. Know the signs and take action fast to control their spread.

1. Cold sores (fever blisters)

New parents often panic at these unsightly blisters, especially when they recall that the herpes simplex virus – which many incorrectly associate with sexual activity, causes them. Remember it’s herpes type 1 or “oral herpes” is passed on through saliva even when there are no sores, and spread by kissing or sharing objects like bottles, cups and cutlery. Herpes type 2 or “genital herpes” is sexually transmitted. The World Health Organisation now estimates two-thirds of the world’s population under age 50 has the virus.


Fluid-filled blisters and scabs on or near the mouth, sometimes accompanied by swollen gums, inflamed lymph glands and fever. The virus then goes dormant but can break out again in weeks, years or never. A weakened immune system, stress, dental treatment, illness, hurt lip or intense sun exposure may be triggers.

Take action

Most cold sores resolve on their own in five to 10 days. Meanwhile, ask your pharmacist for over-the-counter topical creams to speed healing and ease discomfort for children over the age of 2. But for newborns, who have yet to build immunity, the infection can sometimes spread to the brain and be deadly, so contact your healthcare provider at once, says Durban dermatologist Dr Cebi Sibisi.

2. Impetigo

This condition is caused by strep or staph bacteria and is highly contagious, and it’s especially common among children under age 5.


Itchy, mildly painful red sores mainly on the face, hands and feet, which weep and crust.

Take action

Antibiotics are needed, so see your healthcare provider for a prescription. Impetigo can spread to other areas of the body or to other people by fingers, towels and clothing. Gently wash infected areas with mild soap and water and cover with gauze. Also wash the child’s clothes and towels, and don’t let others share them. Wear gloves to apply antibiotic ointment, advises Dr Sibisi. Keep your child home until she is no longer contagious, and given the all clear to return to school or playgroup by your healthcare provider.

3. Molluscum Contagiosum

Another revolving skin condition, it’s prevalent in under 10s and caused by a poxvirus found on skin. It’s spread mostly by skin contact, but sometimes through clothing, towels, taps and gym mats. It’s common in children with eczema and often recurs, says Dr Sibisi.


Painless or itchy pearly bumps the size of a pencil rubber, mostly with a dimple at their centre, anywhere on the body.

Take action

The bumps can take a year to resolve on their own, so see your healthcare provider for treatment. This will depend on the severity and location of the outbreak, and on your child’s age. Some dermatologists may apply a blistering agent over several sessions, or use a curette to open the blisters (it’s relatively painless), or they may prescribe a topical cream, says Dr Sibisi.

4. Pinworm

This parasitic condition starts when your child puts her fingers in her mouth and swallows the minute worm eggs. These incubate for a month or two, then hatch in her gut, and emerge to lay eggs around her anus at night, causing extreme itchiness. Scratching gets the eggs under her nails, and from there to her bedding, clothing, toys and school mats, where they can survive for several weeks and spread to other children.


A very itchy bum, especially at night. To confirm it, press a piece of sticky tape against the skin around her anus, remove it and seal it in a plastic bag. Your healthcare provider can examine it under a microscope for eggs.

Take action

Your healthcare provider may want to treat the whole family with an oral medication, says Dr Sibisi. To kill lingering eggs, wash the family bedding, pyjamas, towels and undies in hot water and dry at high heat.

5. Scabies

Mites picked up from other children through playing closely cause scabies. They burrow under the skin, especially in folds.


It causes a severe itch and sometimes pustules, worsened by scratching. But there may be no visible signs, so be alert to scratches, especially between your child’s fingers and in her armpits and groin. 

Take action

See a healthcare provider straight away.  Treatment with ascabiol and sulphur works well, says Dr Sibisi. “Treatment of all contacts who are itching is important to prevent reinfestation. Also wash and dry all bedding and clothing at high heat.”

IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images