What are the Most Dangerous Childhood Diseases?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2018
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With all of the advancements in immunization, a significant number of childhood diseases have been all but eradicated from an entire generation's memory. There are fewer and fewer cases of the most dangerous diseases, such as polio and diptheria. Many children still acquire the more contagious childhood illnesses, such as chicken pox, mumps and measles, but their symptoms are not usually as severe and their recovery times are much shorter. Despite the advances in immunization and infectious disease treatments, however, some children can still become seriously ill or even die from certain dangerous childhood diseases.

One of the most dangerous childhood diseases is diptheria. At first glance, this form of bacterial infection does not appear to be any worse than strep throat. The most obvious sign of diptheria is a sore throat, accompanied by some fever.

What makes diptheria one of the more dangerous childhood illnesses is the possibility of infection extending below the windpipe and into the respiratory tract. This can cause a number of complications involving the heart and nervous system if left unchecked. Diptheria was once the leading cause of death in children, but fortunately it has been virtually eradicated in the United States and Europe.


Another example of a dangerous childhood disease is tetanus, or lockjaw. Tetanus is caused by a bacteria which tends to live in organic environments like soil or sewage. Under most circumstances, the bacteria dies shortly after exposure to the air, but if a child's skin is penetrated by a dirty nail or splinter, the bacteria can enter the bloodstream.

Severe tetanus infections can result in muscle spasms, which in turn can cause a form of paralysis. Complications from paralysis often lead to death. Fortunately, most children are immunized for tetanus at the same time they receive the vaccine for diptheria.

Chicken pox is not usually considered one of the most dangerous childhood illnesses, but it can cause serious illness or death in children with compromised immune systems. While a vaccine against chicken pox exists, many children still contract it through contact with other infected children. The chicken pox virus usually runs its course within a week, creating very uncomfortable red blisters on the chest, face, throat and back. The fortunate thing about chicken pox is that the body usually forms enough natural immunities to ward off a second attack.

Strep throat and a related infection called scarlet fever are also dangerous childhood illnesses, although modern antibiotics can keep children from developing the most serious symptoms. Scarlet fever can be especially worrisome for parents, since an infected child often maintains a very high fever for several days. The cure for both strep throat and scarlet fever is usually a round of powerful antibiotics, accompanied by complete bed rest, popsicles for the throat pain, fluids for rehydration and wet compresses for fever reduction.

Parents who are concerned about a child's exposure to these childhood diseases should have a discussion with their pediatrician. Certain childhood diseases can be prevented through regularly-timed booster shots, for example. Others may just have to run their course while the child remains quarantined at home. The good news is that the reported number of certain dangerous childhood illnesses per year is now less than 1,000.


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Post 2

@Scrbblchick -- Wow. That is so very sad. It's hard to believe how many children used to die from things that are so uncommon now. Well, they would continue to be uncommon except for crackpot parents who won't immunize their kids because they believe that idiotic, frequently disproved report linking autism and vaccinations. What hogwash.

I have a friend with an autistic son and she said he showed symptoms long before he was ever vaccinated. Both of her other children have had their shots and they are just fine.

Post 1

My mom worked for a hospital in the 50s and 60s, and they had several child deaths from diphtheria. These children had not been vaccinated, even though the vaccine was widely available at the time.

She said the trouble with diphtheria is that the child will seem to be doing well, and then the lymph nodes will swell up and breathing becomes a problem. You have to intubate quickly, and then administer steroids to reduce the swelling in the lymph nodes and surrounding tissues. And this can, apparently, happen very quickly. She said a little 4-year-old girl was gone in just a couple of hours after her throat started swelling and they didn't get her intubated quickly enough.

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