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7 Childhood Ailments That Can Hit Adults, Too!

Plus how to avoid them, and what to do if you get them.
You may think you've put aside childish diseases along with your addiction to Cap'n Crunch, but beware: There are some ailments you can never outgrow.

Unless you're up-to-date on all your vaccinations (get a blood test if you're not sure) or you've had these ailments as a child, you may still be susceptible. Some conditions, such as measles and mumps, can be far more dangerous for adults than for children, with possible complications including pneumonia and miscarriage. Others, like whooping cough, are primarily fatal to the very young. "You can walk around coughing for three or four weeks and be fine, but if a newborn gets it, they can die," cautions Dr. Paul Horowitz, a pediatrician in Valencia, Calif., and spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics. There are also some contagious and noncontagious skin conditions that are a bother for adults and children alike.

What if your child comes down with one of these ailments? Don't worry -- you can still offer plenty of Mommy TLC. "Go ahead and hug them," advises Dr. Carrie Nelson, chair of the AAFP Commission on Health of the Public and Science. "But don't share any glasses, and wash your hands a lot."

Here's a rundown of conditions that can affect patients of all ages, plus how to avoid them and what to do if you get them.

1. Chickenpox

  • Caused by: A virus
  • Symptoms and spread: There's no mistaking that itchy, blistering rash that's accompanied by a fever. Adults may develop pneumonia or encephalitis (swelling of the brain). The virus is spread by direct contact with someone who has it, or airborne by droplets from coughing and sneezing.
  • Prevention: The best method of prevention is to get the varicella (chickenpox) vaccine. Children and adults who aren't immune may need booster shots.
  • Treatment: Bed rest, lots of fluids, anti-itch salves, and acetaminophen or ibuprofen. (Note: children should not be given aspirin.)


2. Measles

  • Caused by: A virus
  • Symptoms and spread: Measles -- which, like chickenpox, is spread by airborne droplets -- causes a red-brown rash, runny nose, cough, red eyes and fever. In adults, it can also cause pneumonia and encephalitis.
  • Prevention: The measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine prevents the illness; again, booster shots may be needed for adults and children who are lacking immunity.
  • Treatment: Just as with the chickenpox, focus on getting bed rest and lots of fluids. You can use a humidifier to help soothe a cough or sore throat.


3. Mumps

  • Caused by: A virus
  • Symptoms and spread: Painful, swollen glands are the signature symptom of mumps, along with fever, sore throat and headache. The virus is airborne. In adults, it can cause meningitis and even deafness.
  • Prevention: Same as measles -- get the MMR vaccine, plus boosters for adults and children who are lacking immunity.
  • Treatment: Rest, fluids and pain relievers, plus soft foods and warm salt-water gargle to ease throat pain.


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