A Dad’s Guide to Common Infectious Diseases for Newborns

By Mathew Miller, Sharon Perkins

Infectious diseases sound scary to new dads. Many infectious diseases of old (30 years ago!) have been eradicated, or nearly so, because of vaccines. However, vaccines haven’t been developed for everything, and sometimes a baby is exposed to an infectious disease before she gets the vaccine for it.

Chicken pox, measles, mumps, and rubella (German measles) vaccines, for example, aren’t given until age 1, and roseola, a common infectious disease in infants, has no vaccine. Being viruses, most common childhood diseases have no specific treatment beyond treating the symptoms and keeping the child comfortable.

You should never give aspirin to treat fever or discomfort because of the possibility of Reye’s syndrome, a rare disease that develops in children recovering from a viral infection. Taking aspirin increases the risk of developing Reye’s syndrome, which can affect the brain and liver. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen are fine if your child is uncomfortable; follow your pediatrician’s instructions on dosing.

Many infectious diseases are accompanied by rashes, so any time your child has a rash and fever, call your medical practitioner for advice. He may want to see your child, but then again, in some cases, he may not want you bringing your infectious child into the waiting room!

If the disease is highly contagious and fairly evident from the type of rash, such as chicken pox, he may give instructions over the phone without seeing the child. Following are some common infectious diseases with rashes:

  • Chicken pox: Chicken pox is unmistakable: small red spots that form blisters that break and crust. A mild temperature and respiratory symptoms often accompany chicken pox. In rare cases, chicken pox can cause encephalitis, brain inflammation that can have long-term consequences. There’s no way to shorten the duration of the disease, but cool baths and anti-itch lotions help with discomfort.

  • Hand, foot, and mouth disease: Although this sounds like some ghastly disease only ranch hands would catch, hand, foot, and mouth disease is a common virus that causes blisters on the — yes, you guessed it — hands and feet and in the mouth. Mild fever can also occur, and the mouth sores can make it hard for a child to eat.

  • Measles: Also called rubeola, measles was once a common disease. From 2000 to 2007, an average of only 63 cases occurred each year in the United States, but in the first half of 2008, 131 cases were reported, with most cases not vaccinated or with unknown vaccination status.

    Measles rarely occurs before six months of age because of maternal immunity being passed to the fetus. Children with measles usually appear quite ill and have a rash and high fever.

  • Mumps: Mumps causes pain and swelling in the parotid glands, resulting in the classic “chipmunk” appearance. Mumps, like measles and rubella, has become rare in developed countries thanks to the mumps vaccine. Mumps can cause painful testicular infection in males and affects sterility less than previously believed.

  • Roseola: Roseola has few complications but often results in frantic calls to medical personnel because the first symptom, which lasts for several days, is a high fever. Around day four the fever breaks and a rash appears. A telltale sign of roseola is that even with a fever as high as 104 degrees, the child doesn’t appear ill. Roseola has no treatment and generally doesn’t cause a great deal of discomfort.

  • Rubella: Rubella, sometimes called German measles, is a mild infection that causes a rash. Although not serious for infected children, rubella poses serious risks for pregnant women, causing a number of birth defects and pregnancy loss. Vaccination has made rubella rare in the United States.