Common Childhood Illnesses

Are you familiar with common childhood illnesses like pneumococcal disease, rotavirus and pertussis? If not, MH has all you need to know about these illnesses and more.


We all want our children to stay perfectly healthy every day, but illnesses can’t be avoided forever. Children will experience their fair share of illnesses, and as parents, it is good to be informed of the common ones so you can be prepared should any of them hit your child. 

Pneumococcal Disease

Most common among children under two years old, this infectious disease can spread to others through direct contact with an infected person’s saliva or mucus. It can lead to a range of infections including pneumonia (lung infections), otitis media (ear infections), meningitis (infection of the membrane protecting the brain and spinal cord), and bacteremia (bloodstream infection).

Symptoms vary depending on the type of infection. The Health Promotion Board lists the following symptoms:


·         Pneumonia: fever, chills, cough, chest pain, rapid breathing

·         Otitis media: ear pain, fever

·         Meningitis: fever, severe headache, vomiting, nausea, photophobia, stiff neck

·         Bacteremia: high fever, non-specific signs of illness


Pneumococcal disease is usually treated with antibiotics.  

Children in Singapore have to be vaccinated against pneumococcal

disease at the ages of three, five and 12 months.


Hand, Foot & Mouth Disease (HFMD)

This viral disease commonly affects children below five years old. It can spread to others through direct contact with contaminated objects or the infected person’s saliva, faeces, and mucus.

Symptoms typically start with fever, decreased appetite, and sore throat, followed by sores in the mouth, tongue and throat, which can turn into ulcers. A rash may also appear on the soles of the feet, palms, buttocks, arms and legs.

There is no specific treatment for HFMD, so medications are usually prescribed to alleviate symptoms. There is no vaccination against HFMD either, which means teaching your child good hygiene habits is important to prevent the disease.


This highly contagious illness is typically characterised by a rash that initially appears as raised bumps. These bumps form itchy, fluid-filled blisters that will eventually burst and turn into crusts. Other symptoms may precede the rash such as fever, loss of appetite, headache as well as fatigue and malaise. “Once infected, you can spread the virus for up to 48 hours before the rash appears, and you remain contagious until all spots crust over,” explains Dr Michael Wong, family physician, Raffles Hospital.

If exposed to an infected person, it takes approximately two weeks for one to develop chickenpox. The infection then lasts for roughly five to ten days.


Chickenpox usually doesn’t require any treatment in healthy children, but medications may be prescribed to relieve the itching.


Vaccination against chickenpox is not mandatory in Singapore, but it is recommended children between 12 to 18 months old be vaccinated.


Asthma is a chronic disease that leads to breathing difficulties, which can be triggered by different factors such as allergens, dust, pollen and mental stress.

Dr Steve Yang, specialist in Respiratory Medicine & consultant, Raffles Internal Medicine Centre, outlines the following symptoms of asthma:

·         Persistent cough

·         Wheezing or whistling sound, especially when breathing out

·         Troubled or fast breathing

·         Frequent colds leading to coughs

Asthma currently has no cure but there are medications to help relieve symptoms. “If the child has very occasional asthma, then a quick reliever medication to treat symptoms such as wheezing or coughing would be sufficient. If the child has more severe or frequent symptoms, then a long-term controller medication is needed to treat the inflamed airways. These are called preventers, and are usually inhaled steroids,” explains Dr Yang.


This highly infectious viral disease commonly leads to severe diarrhoea in young children. It can spread to others through contaminated objects, hands, or food and water. Symptoms include vomiting, watery diarrhoea, abdominal pain, fever, and loss of appetite.

Rotavirus has no specific treatment. Instead, medications are usually prescribed to treat symptoms, and sufficient fluids are recommended to prevent dehydration. “Hydration via frequent oral feeding or intravenous hydration for moderately to severely dehydrated children is required, especially if the patient is unable to tolerate oral feeding,” explains Dr Sudipta Roy Chowdhury, senior resident, Dept. of Neonatal & Developmental Medicine, SGH.


This extremely contagious respiratory infection can spread to others through an infected person’s mucus and saliva during coughing and sneezing.

Early symptoms are fever, cough, red eyes, runny nose, sore throat, and white spots inside the mouth. They are then followed by a full-body rash. “The classic reddish-brown rash usually appears three to five days after the symptoms start coinciding with high fever,” says resident physician, Dr Vina C. Tagamolila, Dept. of Neonatal & Developmental Medicine, SGH, “It first appears on the forehead, then spreads to the face, then down the neck and chest, then to the arms, legs and feet. The rash usually improves after seven days.”


There are no treatments to cure measles. Besides getting sufficient fluids and rest, medication is usually prescribed to treat the fever.


Children here have to receive two doses of vaccinations against measles – the first when they are 12 months old and the second between 15 to 18 months old.


Influenza is an extremely infectious respiratory disease. “Influenza can present with fever, headache, diffuse muscle ache, and cough. Respiratory tract symptoms such as a sore throat, nose congestion, and infected runny nose (called rhinitis) become more prominent as the infection progresses,” says Dr Chowdhury.

It is usually treated with anti-viral medications to alleviate symptoms. However, Dr Chowdhury says most children would not need anti-viral medications unless they are considered to be high-risk patients. “In high-risk patients such as children born with heart conditions or chronic lung disease, they can suffer from complications of the influenza infection,” she says.


Pertussis, or whooping cough, is an extremely contagious respiratory disease that can spread to others through droplets produced by coughing or sneezing.

Initial symptoms lasting for about seven to 14 days are usually similar to the common cold (a runny nose, sneezing, cough, fever). These symptoms then exacerbate into coughing spells. “The coughing spells can last for more than one minute in some cases, and the child may appear in distress as if they are gasping for air,” says Dr Tagamolila, “Classically after the spell, the child makes the characteristic whooping sound when breathing in or may vomit.” These coughing spells can remain for at least three months.

Pertussis is typically treated with antibiotics. It is mandatory for children here to receive a series of vaccinations against pertussis at the ages of three, four and five months. A booster is then administered at the age of 18 months.

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