a child and her mother are both in bed sick

Childhood Illnesses which Adults can get

Oct 10, 2023 Family Medicine Share:

It seems like kids are always getting sick. If you’re a parent, these frequent illnesses can have you wondering if your child is normal or if they have a healthy immune system. The truth is, that children’s immune systems are far less developed than adults, and they haven’t yet developed resistance against many germs. Unfortunately, when kids bring home illnesses, it also means their caregivers can get sick too.

As we move into adulthood there are many things we leave behind in our childhood, however, did you know adults can still contract some childhood illnesses? This may come as a surprise but some of the most common childhood illnesses that can be contracted by adults are Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD), Fifth Disease, and Whooping Cough (also known as Pertussis).

In this article, we will explore these three illnesses in order to increase awareness of them and how they can affect not only children but also their parents.

“Childhood” Illnesses

One of the main reasons your child is frequently sick is because they are exposed to many new viruses and bacteria – often for the first time! The more bacteria your child is exposed to, the more their immunity system strengthens, although this takes time.

As children start preschool or any type of group childcare setting they usually start to get more sick more frequently (especially in the first two years). They are in close contact with people from several households and share items exposing them to a variety of viruses.

Around this age, children learn about their environment through touching. They don’t yet understand they should keep their hands away from their faces. This will lead to an increase in exposure to new germs and viruses.

Good hygiene helps to stop infections from spreading, and it is important to teach your child good hygiene as early as possible. Teach children to wash their hands with soap for 20 seconds before they eat, after using the restroom, and when they return home from being outside. Teach them to cover their mouths with tissue paper or their sleeve when they cough, brush, floss their teeth, and bathe regularly.

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD)

You may not have heard of HFMD - don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many adults are unfamiliar with this virus. It is a common viral infection that is highly contagious. It is common in children under the age of 5, anyone can contract it including adults. It causes painful red blisters in the throat, mouth, hands, feet, and diaper areas for children. Unfortunately, it is an illness that can be contracted multiple times because there are many viruses that can cause it.

HFMD can spread through families and friends quite quickly. It most commonly spreads through contact with poop/feces, respiratory droplets, and fluid from the blisters. It also spreads through kissing or hugging someone who may unknowingly have the virus, or even sharing cups, eating utensils, towels, or clothing. It can also be spread through touching contaminated surfaces or unwashed hands.

HFMD Symptoms

The symptoms of HFMD typically appear in two stages. When the illness first appears, the symptoms include a mild fever, sore throat, runny nose, loss of appetite, and stomach pain.

These symptoms usually clear in a few days before the illness moves into its second stage. In this stage, new symptoms include an itchy rash in the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, elbows, knees, genitals, and buttocks. Painful mouth sores (including on the tongue) will appear which then turn into blisters as does the rash.

It is handy to know that HFMD symptoms are the same in adults as they are in children. Children show the initial symptoms, but adults don't until the blisters begin to form.

HFMD Treatment

Almost all cases of HFMD clear up within 7-10 working days, with no medical treatment. However, to help alleviate the symptoms you should drink plenty of water and other fluids to prevent dehydration. You can also take over-the-counter pain and fever medication but please note children should not be given aspirin. Using numbing mouthwashes or sprays can help dull the pain of the blisters in the mouth.

You should seek assistance from an urgent care doctor if you or your child:

  • are not drinking enough to stay hydrated;
  • have a fever that lasts more than three days;
  • have severe itching or blistering; and/or
  • have a weakened immune system.

It is important to contact an urgent care doctor if your child is under the age of 6 months or if symptoms have not improved after 10 days.

Fifth Disease

Fifth Disease (also known as slapped cheek syndrome) is a mild viral illness that is most common in children between the ages of 5 and 15 years old, but once again this is an illness that adults can get. The disease is spread through the respiratory droplets when someone coughs or sneezes. Surprisingly, almost 20% of people contracting the virus have no symptoms but can still pass the illness on to others.

Fifth Disease Symptoms

Fifth Disease symptoms often begin with flu-like symptoms such as a low fever, headaches, achiness, a runny nose, fatigue, and a sore throat. Other symptoms include a bright red rash on the face and a lacy rash on the arms, legs, trunk, and bottom. About 10% of children with this illness will also have joint pain and possibly joint swelling.

The rash on the child’s face may not appear for several days after the flu-like symptoms. Once the rash arises, the flu-like symptoms no longer appear, and it is unlikely your child is still infectious. The symptoms for adults differ slightly; adults usually have severe flu-like symptoms but without the rash developing. However, 78% of adults will develop joint pain and swelling 1-3 weeks following the initial infection, which may last from weeks to months.

Fifth Disease Treatment

As with HFMD, there is no cure for Fifth Disease and it typically clears up without medical treatment in a few weeks. In order to help ease the symptoms you can obtain over-the-counter pain relief that can treat fever, headaches, and joint pain.

You should seek assistance from an urgent care doctor if you or your child have:

  • severe joint pain;
  • an itchy rash;
  • A weakened immune system; and/or
  • A blood disorder.

It is important to contact an urgent care doctor if you are pregnant and think you may have Fifth Disease.

Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Whooping Cough is a highly contagious bacterial infection of the lungs and breathing tubes. As with many illnesses, Whooping Cough spreads easily through respiratory droplets when someone coughs or sneezes. This can also spread from parent to newborn when they share breathing space or spend a lot of time together.

Whooping Cough Symptoms

Once you have been infected it can take 7-10 days for the symptoms to begin to show. The early symptoms of Whooping Cough often imitate cold-like symptoms and include a runny nose, a cough, and a fever. Within two weeks, these symptoms develop into a persistent and dry cough which may cause difficulty in breathing.

When a breath is taken in, it can cause severe coughing which ends in a ‘whooping’ sound.

This cough may also cause vomiting, blue or purple skin around the mouth, dehydration, and breathing difficulties. However, adults and teenagers typically experience milder symptoms, such as a prolonged cough without the “whoop” sound. A persistent hacking cough is the only sign that an adolescent or adult has whooping cough.

Whooping Cough Treatment

The best treatment for Whopping Cough is prevention. Vaccinations are the best protection so it’s important that everyone - children and adults - get their scheduled Whooping Cough vaccinations as listed below:

  • 2 months old – 1 dose
  • 4 months old – 1 dose
  • 6 months old – 1 dose
  • 15-18 months old – 1 dose
  • 4-6 years – 1 dose
  • 7-10 years old – 1 dose (if you did not get all 5 doses listed above)
  • 11-18 years old – 1 dose
  • Pregnant women – 1 dose (as early as possible during the third of each pregnancy)
  • Adults 18 years+ - 1 dose (if you did not get the doses listed above)

Whooping Cough is primarily treated with antibiotics and works best when taken in the early stages before the cough begins. They can also be used later in the illness to stop the spread of the virus to other people. It is important to remember that although antibiotics treat the infection, they do not prevent or stop the cough itself. Some young children and babies may need to be hospitalized during treatment for observation and to help with breathing difficulties.

You should seek assistance from an urgent care doctor if you or your child:

  • has a dry, sticky mouth;
  • feel lethargic and tired;
  • experience dehydration;
  • experience muscle weakness; and/or
  • experience difficulty breathing.

It is important to contact an urgent care doctor if you are pregnant and think you may have contracted Whooping Cough.

Staying healthy

Children get sick throughout the year and it can be easy to catch their illness while you are caring for them. Children will cough, sneeze, and rub their eyes and then touch other toys and surfaces. Teach them about good hygiene, especially washing their hands with soap for at least 20 seconds – this can significantly reduce the risk of spreading infections. It is important that both you and your child(ren) are up to date with your vaccines to strengthen the immune system. Make sure to take care of yourself whilst caring for a sick child and practice your own good hygiene.

Not feeling well?

It is important to understand that as adults you CAN get sick from childhood illnesses. If you find yourself sick, visit your local MedHelp urgent care clinic - equipped to deal with all the illnesses that life throws your way.