Common childhood infections

Many parents have the impression that their youngster is always sick. Young children are very vulnerable to germs (viruses and bacteria) that cause infections. They easily catch colds, tummy bugs, and other infections. Why? Because their immune system, which protects them against germs, is not developed enough yet—and because they touch everything!

Infections in young children are most often caused by viruses. These viral infections are generally not serious, don’t last long, and go away by themselves. They often occur more frequently during the child’s first year in daycare. They gradually diminish as the child gets older and his immune system develops.

Preventing infections

Germs are everywhere in your child’s environment: on toys, floors and door handles, for example. They are present in the nose, mouth, stools, and skin, and in the adults and children your child is in contact with. They can also be carried by animals.

It’s impossible to completely avoid germs. In fact, some exposure to germs enables your child’s immune system to develop properly, helping her build up her own personal stock of antibodies for the future.

Germs can be spread to your little one in different ways. For example, someone with an infection may kiss her or sneeze around her, or your child can put a contaminated object in her mouth. But usually germs are spread by the hands.

How to do a good hand washing

The best way to reduce the spread of infections is to wash your hands with soap often throughout the day, especially when you are sick.

When should you wash your hands?

  • Before preparing meals, eating, breastfeeding, and feeding or giving medication to your child
  • After using or accompanying a child to the toilet, changing a diaper, caring for someone who is ill, cleaning up vomit or diarrhea, coughing or sneezing into your hands, wiping a nose, throwing out a soiled tissue, touching or playing with a pet, or cleaning an animal cage or litter box or visiting a public space

Wash your children’s hands as often as necessary, especially

  • Before meals and snacks
  • After they use the potty or toilet and after they play outdoors, in the sandbox, or with pets, and after they visit a public space

How should you wash your hands?

Essential information to rememberThe best way to prevent infections is to wash your hands often throughout the day.

Photo: Marie-Julie Martel

  • Wet your hands in warm running water. Water that is too hot dries out the skin and is no more effective.
  • Rub your hands together with mild soap (bar or liquid) for 20 seconds, including your fingernails and thumb, and the area between your fingers.
  • Rinse your hands well in warm running water.
  • Dry hands thoroughly with a clean towel.

If necessary you can use a moisturizing lotion or cream to prevent chapping.

If your child is too small to reach the sink

The above method is the most effective but is not always easy with small children. In that case

  • First wash your child’s hands with a paper towel or clean washcloth soaked in warm water and soap during 20 seconds
  • Rinse her hands with a washcloth soaked in warm water
  • Dry her hands well

Waterless hand sanitizer

Washing thoroughly with soap and water remains the best option. If water is not available, you can use a towelette or alcohol-based waterless hand sanitizer. These products should only be used when no alternative is available.

If you use a hand sanitizer, choose one that contains alcohol. Place a small amount in the palm of your hand and dip your nails in the product. Rub your hands together, including the nails, thumbs, and area between your fingers, until the product completely evaporates.

Since the hand sanitizer contains alcohol, make sure to keep it out of the reach of children.

Other ways to prevent infections

Vaccination is one of the most effective ways of protecting your child’s health. You are advised to have your child vaccinated according to the suggested schedule (see Vaccination).

Cough or sneeze into a paper tissue or into your elbow rather than your hands. Throw out the paper tissue right after using it and wash your hands.

Thoroughly wash toys and other objects (e.g., cups, utensils) that other children put in their mouths before giving them to your child. Don’t clean your baby’s pacifier by putting it in your mouth.

Note that masks are not recommended for children under 2.

As much as possible, prevent healthy children, especially babies under 3 months old, from coming into direct, prolonged contact with people who have contagious illnesses.

If your child has a contagious illness, fever, cold, or diarrhea, or if she is coughing a lot, it’s preferable that she stay home. It’s also a good idea to notify any visitors or people you are intending to visit.

If you are pregnant, see Contact with people with a contagious disease.

Childcare services

Childcare services usually have clear policies about keeping sick kids at home and administering medication. Reading these rules beforehand will save you some unpleasant surprises and help keep everyone healthy (other children, the staff, and other parents).

If your child is sick, tell the staff about your child’s symptoms and ask if she can attend that day.

Your sick child may not have the energy to engage in her usual activities. If necessary, keep her at home.

Antibodies: Substances made by the body to fight off disease. Also called immunoglobulins.

Immune system: Organs and mechanisms that allow the body to fight against infections.