We know when our children are sick. They go from being active and alert to quiet, grumpy, sleepy, clingy and wanting more cuddles. Often they lose interest in food. The most common general signs of illness are fever, pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, cough, headache and rash. Fever (body temperature above 37°C) indicates that the body is ‘fighting’ infection from either bacteria or viruses. Children’s natural defence mechanisms are less well-developed than adults’ immune systems, so children are at higher risk of infections. They need extra special attention when they feel unwell.
Fever accompanied by cough, runny or blocked nose and headache can signify the common cold. “Ask us about our Children’s Pain & Fever fact card”, recommend Self Care pharmacists, “because this has a lot of helpful hints for looking after sick children. Also it indicates what other signs to look out for in children that indicate more serious illnesses.” Keeping your child comfortable in bed, giving plenty of fluids, and using liquid medicines such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce fever, are best when your child has a cold. “But” advice from Self Care pharmacists is “use proper medicine-measuring spoons when measuring-out doses of liquid medicines. Don’t use kitchen teaspoons because they are not accurate, the volume varies from spoon to spoon, and your child will not receive the correct dose of medicine.”
Parents can encourage their children to take simple steps to help prevent the spread of some illnesses. Children should cover their mouths and noses when they sneeze and cough, and then wash their hands straight after. Washing hands is also VERY important after going to the toilet, and before eating. They should not share cups and drink bottles, nor spoons and other eating utensils. Tissues are best for blowing noses, and then they should be thrown away immediately.
Immunisation is generally one of the most effective ways of protecting children against infections that can cause serious diseases and associated complications (including death). All forms of immunisation work by causing the body to produce an immune response, in the same way it would if exposed to the disease but without the child suffering all the symptoms and consequences. In the future, when the child comes into contact with the disease, the immune system responds quickly and helps prevent the child developing the disease. The World Health organisation and the Ministry of Health recommend immunisation for your children. However there may be cases where it is not suitable to immunise and it is important to see your pharmacist or doctor regarding possible risks and/or contraindications. Children with asthma or allergies, or who are recovering from an illness, such as a common cold, can be immunised. If at any time you are worried about the health of your child, seek medical advice.
Free immunisation, at specific times in a child’s life according to the Ministry of Health’s immunisation schedule, is available to all children in New Zealand, to protect against a number of diseases – diphtheria, haemophilus influenzae type b (a cause of childhood meningitis), pneumococcal disease, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella, polio, tetanus and whooping cough. Some vaccines are given as single doses while others need to be given as a series of immunisations to be effective. Side effects from vaccines can sometimes occur and include redness and soreness at the injection site. There may also be mild fever. While these symptoms may be upsetting at the time, the benefit is protection from the disease. More serious reactions to immunisation are very rare. Ask your Self Care pharmacists for a copy of the Children’s Illnesses and Children’s Pain & Fever fact cards that contains useful information for parents.
Prepared by Pharmacy Self Care, Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand, PO Box 11640, Wellington.