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Germs & illness

Which most common infections are likely to affect my baby?

Milton for hygiene

Germs are living micro-organisms, not visible to the eyes. They are necessary for life on earth and are not necessarily all dangerous.

We find three main families of germs:

  • Bacteria
  • Fungi
  • Viruses

While not all germs are dangerous to your baby, some are more likely to affect them because of their less developed immune system. 

Which most common infections are likely to affect my baby?

Colds

A common cold is a viral infection that affects the throat, the nose and the sinuses. There are more than 200 different cold viruses. They are very contagious and can make your baby feel very poorly. It takes usually between 10 to 14 days to get clear of a cold with a baby. So be ready for some difficult nights, comfort your little one and wipe their nose as much as you can.

Colds can be caused by one of many different viruses. Babies tend to get more colds than adults for the simple reason that their immune systems are still developing. Usually most babies have up to seven colds during the first year of life.

What are the main symptoms?

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Runny, stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Loss of appetite

What should I do to treat the cold?

To protect your baby from colds always take special care to wash your hands. Follow some basic hygiene rules:

  • Throw away used tissues immediately after use – prefer disposable tissues
  • Clean your baby’s nose regularly
  • Wash your hands regularly
  • If you are affected cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough

Ensure that your baby has plenty of rest. Keep your baby well hydrated with extra water. Wipe your baby's nose regularly and don’t hesitate to use a bit of baby cream on to the outside of their nostrils to reduce any irritation. You can also use nasal saline drops to help unblock their nose. Keep the room aired at a comfortable temperature and ensure that your baby does not get too hot.

If your baby starts having fever above 38°C and their condition does not improve, it is better to take them to your GP for more advice. If your baby is under 3 months, call the doctor early in the illness so that it does not develop into another more serious illness.

Flu

Flu is a highly infectious and very common viral illness that is spread by coughs and sneezes. It is caused by a virus that affects the respiratory system (the nose, airways and lungs). It is different from a common cold and tends to be more common in the winter between April and October every year. Babies with a more vulnerable immune system are more at risk of catching it. 

What are the main symptoms?

  • High temperature
  • Headache
  • General aches and pains
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Nausea
  • Runny nose
  • Loss of appetite

What should I do to protect my baby from the flu?

To protect your baby from flu always take special care to wash your hands. Follow some basic hygiene rules:

  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Regularly clean surfaces in the home to get rid of germs. Think of cleaning door handles and telephones
  • Use tissue to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
  • Dispose of used tissues quickly in a bin
  • Stay at home to avoid spreading the virus to other people

If your baby has the flu, ensure that they have plenty of rest and keep them well hydrated with extra water. Keep the room aired at a comfortable temperature and ensure that your baby does not get too hot.

If your baby has a temperature over 38°C and their condition does not improve, we recommend taking them your GP for more advice. If your baby is under 3 months, call the doctor straight away.

Thrush

You may have never heard of it but thrush is a common fungal infection resulting in small white flakes appearing in the mouth, together with symptoms of appetite loss, difficulty swallowing, vomiting and potentially dehydration. Oral thrush affects around 1 in 20 babies so it is very common. Premature babies can be more at risk of catching it.

Oral thrush is caused by a fungal micro-organism. Even though thrush can be very irritating, it is not a very serious condition in itself. With treatment, it usually clear up in a few days.

If you think that your baby may have caught thrush, you should contact your GP to ensure that your baby gets treated quickly to avoid any of the problems linked to thrush: sore mouth, crying during breatstfeeding or infant feeding, a strong nappy rash.

How can my baby get thrush?

In 81% of cases your baby got it from the mother during the passage through the birth canal during labour. 50% of the population has Candida albicans in their mouth. Under normal circumstances, this fungus does not develop into thrush. However a baby has a weak immune system (not fully developed like an adult) and can more easily catch it. 

Candida albicans can travel through your baby’s digestive system to their bottom and cause nappy rash.

Candida albicans can also grow on a mother’s nipples, which can then be transmitted to the baby’s mouth during breastfeeding. As a mother if you think that you may have caught nipple thrush you should also get treatment from your GP. Symptoms of nipple thrush are pain while feeding your baby and cracked, flaky or sensitive nipples.

How can I prevent it?

You can sterilise all bottles and your baby’s feeding equipment regularly taking special care on the teats.

Also sterilise any breastfeeding equipment like the nipple shields and the breast pump parts.

Finally sterilise the dummies regularly, teething rings and small plastic toys designed to be put in the mouth.

Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the stomach and intestines, characterised by vomiting and diarrhea. In most cases, the infection clears within a few days, but sometimes it can be more severe. The main risk to babies is dehydration, so the best treatment is to give your baby lots to drink.

What causes gastroenteritis?

Many viruses and bacteria can cause gastroenteritis. Rotavirus is the most common virus causing gastroenteritis in children. It is very common to catch it before the age of 5 years. Adenoviruses are another common group of viruses that cause gastroenteritis in children.

Norovirus is the most common virus causing gastroenteritis in adults. However, the Norovirus infection can occur at any age, so even in children and babies.

Gastroenteritis can also be caused by food poisoning (eating food contaminated by germs). Food poisoning is usually caused by a bacteria. The most common bacteria responsible for food poisoning are called Campylobacter, Salmonella and Escherichia coli.

What are the main symptoms?

  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Tummy upset
  • Fever, headache and aching limbs can occur
  • In more severe cases dehydration including little urine, dry mouth, dry tongue, weakness and lethargy

Babies under the age of one are more vulnerable because their immune system is still developing. If your baby is under 1 year of age, you should seek medical advice. If you think that your baby is dehydrated, you should seek immediate medical attention and treat this as an emergency.

What should I do to protect my baby from gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis can be very infectious. To stop spreading the germs, you should first of all take extra care washing your hands. There are also some basic hygiene rules to follow:

  • Wash hands regularly; after going to the toilet, before eating, before touching food, after changing nappies, before feeding your baby, after gardening and after playing with pets
  • Clean the potty or toilet thoroughly with a disinfectant after each episode of diarrhea and vomiting. Also disinfect the toilet seat
  • Clean and disinfect door handles
  • Don’t share your child’s towels, flannels, cutlery or eating utensils with other members of the family
  • Keep your child at home away from other children until 48 hours have passed since their last episode of diarrhea or vomiting