You’re up-to-date on their vaccinations, taught them to wash their hands — but each time they go outside, they risk exposure. Although you’ve done your best, germs are a part of life, especially for children.
Many germs are harmless, and some can actually be helpful. They can break down vitamins, and protect the body from being infected with harmful fungi or bacteria. But other germs can cause your child to get sick.
Infectious diseases come in many different forms. They can cause a variety of symptoms, from fevers to coughs to painful urination. They can affect any part of the body, and may be either short-term or chronic (long-lasting).
Your child can get an infectious disease in several different ways:
- Coming in direct contact with someone who is sick
- Touching something that has been touched by a person who is sick
- Being bitten by an insect or animal
- Coming in contact with contaminated food, water, plants, or soil
What Sets Children’s Apart?
We are the only hospital in the region that is focused solely on pediatrics:
- This makes our infectious disease specialists experts at knowing the unique needs of children, as well as how to communicate with them. We also have expertise in helping families develop plans for managing chronic infectious diseases as a child ages.
- Our physicians are board-certified in either pediatrics, infectious disease, or pediatric infectious disease. Board certification requires taking continuing education courses, which means that our providers are always up-to-date on the most current, advanced care.
- We are constantly participating in research in many areas, including global health, HIV/AIDS, and diseases in patients with compromised immune systems. This ensures that our staff is knowledgeable about the latest in patient care, and makes us leaders in infectious disease care.
There are 4 types of infectious diseases:
- Bacterial (such as strep throat or urinary tract infections): From single-cell germs that multiply quickly
- Viral (such as HIV/AIDS or the common cold): From tiny organisms that invade cells so they can multiply, and destroy, damage, or change cells to cause sickness
- Fungal (such as athlete’s foot): From plant-like organisms, such as mildew, mushrooms, mold, or yeast
- Parasitic (such as malaria): From a parasite — a living creature or plant that survives by living inside or on other living organisms
Conditions We Treat
Anyone can develop an infectious disease at any age. We often treat very young children, since their immune systems have not fully developed, and they may be more likely to get an infection.
Some of the most common conditions we treat include:
Bone And Joint InfectionsBone and joint infections are among the most common invasive infections in infants and children. Invasive infections are infections that spread to parts of the body that are typically free from germs.
Generally, these infections are due to a staph infection (infection with the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus). They are most often found in the ends of the leg and arm bones, or at the hips, knees, ankles, shoulders, elbows, or wrists.
Be on the lookout for signs of a bone or joint infection, especially if your child has recently injured themselves. Some of the most common signs include:
- Pain in the infected area
- Limited or unusual movement in the infected area (such as limping or being unable to walk if there is a leg infection)
- In infants: irritability, vomiting, or refusing to eat
Congenital InfectionsThese are infections that are passed to an unborn fetus or newborn infant at any time during pregnancy or up until delivery. Even if a mother does not feel sick or show any symptoms, she can still pass the infection.
One of the most common congenital infections is called congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV). CMV is a virus that infects nearly 1 in 3 US children by age 5, and more than half of US adults by age 40. About 1 in every 200 US babies is born with congenital CMV.
While CMV is usually harmless and symptomless, it can cause serious health concerns. Approximately 1 in 5 babies born with congenital CMV experience symptoms such as:
- Birth weight of less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
- Large spleen or liver
- Rash at birth
- Small head size
- Swollen retina (layer of tissue at the back of the eyeball)
Children with symptomatic congenital CMV may have lifelong neurological conditions or difficulties with body movement.
Frequent, Recurrent, Or Unusual InfectionsIf your child gets sick once or twice in a year, there’s probably no need to worry — getting sick is just a part of childhood. However, repeated infections could indicate that your child has a weakened immune system, allergies, or a high level of exposure to germs.
Be on the lookout for signs that the infection has become recurrent, such as:
- Needing more than four courses of antibiotics in one year
- Having more than four ear infections in one year after age 4
- Developing pneumonia more than once
- Having common infections turn into severe infections
The most common type of recurrent infection is a respiratory tract infection. It is considered recurrent if it happens more than six times in one year. Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, and a runny nose.
We also treat patients who come in with unusual infections — ones that we don’t often see in children.
Infections In Patients With Weakened Immune SystemsIf your child has a disease, such as cancer or HIV/AIDS, they may be undergoing treatment that weakens their immune system. This puts them at an increased risk for developing infections.
There are ways your child can keep their immune system as healthy as possible to avoid getting an infectious disease. You can help them by making sure they:
- Wash their hands often, especially before eating
- Avoid touching animal feces
- Avoid eating or drinking unwashed fruits or vegetables, undercooked eggs, raw milk and cheeses, raw seed sprouts, or unpasteurized fruit juices
- Drink safe water: This means not swallowing untreated water (such as water directly from a river or lake), and avoiding tap water in certain foreign countries
- Receive all of their vaccines
Kawasaki DiseaseThis disease causes swelling in the walls of medium-sized arteries throughout your child’s body. It affects the lymph nodes, skin, and mucous membranes inside the mouth, nose, and throat. The exact cause of this disease is currently unknown, but it is thought to be a combination of genetics, exposure to viruses and bacteria, and environmental factors, such as chemicals.
Signs of this disease may include:
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- Rashes on the middle of the body and in the genital area
- Cracked lips and a red, swollen tongue
- Red, swollen palms of the hands and soles of the feet
- Redness in the eyes
- Peeling skin
- A high fever (higher than 102 °F)
Prolonged Fever With An Unknown CauseThis kind of fever refers to a body temperature of over 101°F that lasts for several weeks without a known cause (such as the flu or a cold).
It is important to take this type of fever seriously, as it could be a sign of a chronic infection or another medical condition, such as tissue disease or cancer.
Bring your child to their physician if they show any of these symptoms:
- Fever that lasts more than 24 to 48 hours
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid heartbeat or breathing
- Temperature over 104 °F or lower than 95 °F
- Changes in mental functioning (such as confusion)
- Stiff neck
- Small purplish spots on the skin
It is especially important to look for these symptoms if you have just travelled to an area where they could have picked up an infection, or if they have recently taken drugs or had treatments that suppress their immune system — such as cyclosporine to treat psoriasis or chemotherapy to treat cancer.
Tick-Borne InfectionsSome ticks carry germs that can cause diseases such as Lyme disease, tick-borne relapsing fever, or rickettsiosis.
The most commonly reported tick-borne infection is Lyme disease. It’s found in areas where there is high humidity, and very low and high seasonal temperatures. Although it’s not very common here in Omaha, keep an eye out for Lyme disease if your child has recently travelled to a place where Lyme disease is commonly found, including:
- Northeast (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont)
- North central states (Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin)
- West Coast (California)
Typically, the first symptom of Lyme disease is a rash that begins as a pink or red circle which expands over time. As it enlarges, a ring may form around it, making the circle look like a bullseye. Other common symptoms include:
- Muscle or joint aches and pains
- Swollen glands (generally in the groin or neck)
Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)A urinary tract infection is an infection in any part of your child’s urinary system — their kidneys, ureters (tubes that bring urine from the kidneys to the bladder), bladder, or urethra. Bladder infections are the most common kind of UTI.
A UTI may not always have noticeable signs or symptoms, but some common symptoms are:
- Burning sensation when urinating
- Cloudy urine
- Persistent, strong urge to urinate
- Red, bright pink, or dark brown urine
Specialty Care Travel Clinic
The Children’s Specialty Care Travel Clinic is available for children from birth to 21 years of age who will be traveling internationally. The Travel Clinic is staffed by pediatric infectious disease specialists who have additional certification in travel medicine. We tailor our recommendations to your child based on their age, where they’re traveling to, how long they’re travelling for, and any other special health considerations.
Specialty Care Travel Clinic services include:
- Offering country-specific information about disease risk and prevention
- Providing vaccinations for typhoid, yellow fever, rabies, Japanese encephalitis, meningitis, and Hepatitis A & B
- Providing routine vaccines:
- Hepatitis B
- DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis)
- Haemophilus Influenzae Type b (Hib)
- MMR (measles, mumps, & rubella)
- Hepatitis A
- HPV (human papillomavirus)
- Prescribing medication to prevent certain illnesses, such as malaria, traveler’s diarrhea, or altitude sickness
- Offering general travel-related health advice and recommendations
Travel Clinic Appointments
Your child does not need a referral to be seen by one of our travel medicine specialists.
If your child is going to be traveling, we recommend making an appointment 4 to 6 weeks before the trip. Call 402-955-4005.
Please bring your travel itinerary to the appointment.
Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) – Traveler’s Health Information
Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) – Disease Directory
Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) – Traveling with Children
What To Do Next
Your child does not need an appointment for the travel clinic, but they do need a referral from their primary care physician to be treated for an infectious disease. Once the physician has submitted a referral, contact Infectious Disease at 402-955-4005 to make an appointment.
Your child does not need a referral to be seen by one our travel medicine specialists. Call 402-955-4005 to make an appointment.
For Referring Providers
The Physicians’ Priority Line is your 24-hour link to pediatric specialists at Children’s for emergency and urgent consults, physician-to-physician consults, admissions, and transport services. Call 855-850-KIDS (5437).
Learn more about referring patients.