Childhood infections: minimising the spread

Infections are very common in young children, but fortunately most of these will not be serious. It is not unusual for a preschool child to have up to 10 infections per year. Many of these will be colds and other viral infections affecting the upper respiratory tract.

Transmission of infection

In many cases, children will catch infections from coming into close contact with another infected person, such as someone in the family or at child care.

There are 2 common ways in which infection can be spread:

  • droplet spread of infected secretions through sneezing or coughing (this is how upper respiratory infections are most commonly spread); and
  • direct contact with an infected person or a contaminated surface (some germs can linger on surfaces for hours, or even days).

Immunisation against childhood infections

Immunisation is an effective way of helping to protect children against many infections that are serious or even life-threatening.

There are some side effects of immunisation, but the most common are mild and transient. Serious reactions to immunisation are rare. If you have specific questions about immunisation, your doctor can advise you.

Immunisation not only helps to protect your child against particular infections, but also helps to stop the spread of these diseases in the community.

Minimising the spread of infection

One way to help prevent the spread of infection is by keeping your hands clean. Washing your hands properly requires soap as well as water. It is very important to always wash your hands after:

  • blowing your nose;
  • wiping a child’s nose;
  • going to the toilet; and
  • changing a child’s nappy.

Children should also be taught to wash their hands after going to the toilet and before eating.

You should always wash your hands before preparing food for the family. It is also important to make sure that utensils are well washed and that kitchen surfaces and bathroom surfaces are cleaned regularly.

For some potentially serious or highly contagious infections, avoiding contact with other people may be advised.

Each state has regulations about exclusion from day care of children with certain infections. Your doctor can advise you when isolation or exclusion is applicable.

Last Reviewed: 20 April 2011
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References

1. National Health and Medical Research Council. Staying healthy in child care: preventing infectious diseases in child care, 4th edition. Canberra: NHMRC, 2005. Available at: http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/publications/attachments/ch43.pdf (accessed 2012, Aug 22)
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Seasonal flu information for schools and childcare providers. Atlanta: CDC. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/school (accessed 2012, Aug 22)
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