Symptoms to watch out for
If you choose not to vaccinate your child, they will be more likely to catch a range of infectious diseases that can be serious. It is important for you to know how to recognise the early signs of these diseases so that you can get the help your child needs. Even with treatment, some of these diseases can have serious or life-long effects for children who catch them. Some children do not survive a serious childhood illness.
Medicines like antibiotics and immunoglobulins are available for some infectious diseases. Children who have had contact with a person known to have an infectious disease need to see a doctor as soon as possible. They may need to start treatment as soon as they can.
If your child is sick and you suspect they have an infectious disease, it is important to call before you go to the doctor so the staff can make sure there isn’t anyone in the waiting room who would be vulnerable to a vaccine-preventable disease. People with certain illnesses, or having certain medical treatments, may not be able to recover from an infectious disease.
Most serious infectious diseases in babies and children start out looking like a common cold, so it can be difficult to tell when they have something more serious. Below is a list of symptoms that could be a sign they have a serious disease.
Not all children who are seriously ill have one of the symptoms listed. If your child seems unusually sick, please:
Fever is a sign of many infectious diseases. The symptoms of fever can vary. A child may have a fever if they have a high body temperature, if their skin is hot to the touch, or if they are shivering even though they are warmly dressed. Fever can also make babies and young children sleepy, drowsy or lethargic, or make their skin look pale or mottled. Fever can be a little harder to pick up in babies as they often don’t show speciﬁc symptoms; they just seem to be very sick.
Fever with intense crying
When a baby or child who has a fever is also crying more, or more intensely, than they usually do, or if their crying has an unusually piercing or high-pitched sound it could be a sign of meningitis (a brain infection). Meningitis can be caused by Hib, meningococcal disease or pneumococcal disease.
Fever with light-sensitive eyes, stiff neck and bulging fontanelle (soft spot)
Your child should be taken to hospital immediately if they have a fever and at the same time:
light seems to hurt their eyes
they have a stiff neck and are not turning their head to look at you
they have a bulging soft spot (also called a ‘fontanelle’) on the top of their head.
they have a rash that does not fade when you press on it with a drinking glass.
If you need an ambulance to take you and your child to a hospital, call 000.
Seizures or fits
If your baby or child has a fit (seizure) and they have never had one before, it could be a sign they have meningitis. Call an ambulance on 000.
Long coughing fits
Sometimes babies or children who have serious lung infections (like pertussis or pneumonia) have long coughing fits. These coughing fits can make it difficult for them to breathe. If they are not able to breathe properly while they are coughing their lips can turn blue. Sometimes babies will vomit after a coughing fit. Sometimes they will make a choking sound or they will seem to be coughing silently. These are symptoms of lung infections such as pneumonia and might be caused by pertussis (also known as ‘whooping cough’), Hib, or pneumococcus.
Sometimes babies or children who are seriously ill will get blue lips while coughing or just after a coughing fit. Sometimes they stop breathing altogether for a moment or two after a coughing ﬁt. These are symptoms of lung infections and can be caused by pertussis (also known as ‘whooping cough’), Hib or pneumococcus.
If your child develops a rash, test to see if it fades (or ‘blanches’) when you push on it. Some parents do this by pushing the skin with a finger for a few seconds, then letting go. Others push a clear drinking glass onto the skin, bottom-side down, and then look to see if the rash fades underneath the bottom of the glass. A rash that doesn’t fade could be caused by meningococcal disease or pneumococcal disease. Usually the rash does not appear until the baby or child is very sick. If your child has a rash like this, call an ambulance on 000.
Rash with cold or flu symptoms
Rashes that start when, or soon after, a child gets a fever, runny nose, sore throat, swollen or tender neck, or headache are a sign of many serious infectious diseases.
If your child has an injury that causes a break in the skin, dirt can get into the wound. If that dirt contains tetanus spores, then they can get a tetanus infection. Animal bites, scratches from thorns or sharp stones in the garden, and punctures from old nails can cause tetanus infection. Wounds can become infected very quickly so it is important to see a doctor straight away if your child gets an injury like this.
Loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhoea, lethargy
Babies and children who have not been vaccinated can get rotavirus gastroenteritis. Rotavirus gastroenteritis (or ‘gastro’) is worse than other types of gastro and can cause babies and children to get dehydrated. Babies and children should be taken to a doctor immediately if they are not drinking or eating, vomiting, experiencing diarrhoea, being very sleepy or lethargic, or being difficult to wake up.