Childhood susceptibility to illness

Are children more likely to be sick more often during certain life stages?

Children are considered most vulnerable to infection from approximately 2 to 3 months of age to 6 to 8 years of age. The immune system is immature at birth and must evolve during a life of exposure to multiple foreign challenges throughout childhood.

In the last three months of pregnancy a large wave of protective maternal antibodies are passed through the placenta to the foetus conferring ‘passive immunity’ to infections experienced by the mother. This protection is sadly not available to those babies born prematurely. This protection dissipates after approximately three months.

Passive immunity is also conferred to breastfeeding infants as breastmilk contains significant volumes of the antibody IgA which protect the infant, especially from gastrointestinal-related infections.

How can parents reduce the likelihood of their children catching communicable diseases?

While it is not possible to entirely ‘protect’ your child from infection (young children experience around 4 to 8 viral illnesses per year), there are a few things that can be done to reduce the frequency and severity of infections suffered by our children.

Firstly, vaccinations are considered the mainstay of prevention. An excellent example is the rotavirus vaccine given to infants which has significantly reduced the frequency and severity of gastroenteritis in the infant population. This can be attested to by any paediatric hospital staff who has seen the dramatic decline in admissions to hospital for vomiting and diarrhoea in infants since its introduction.

Secondly, hygiene. Basic, regular hand washing significantly reduces the spread of both viruses and bacteria shared between humans.

Conscientious management of infectious particles by simply sneezing/coughing into your elbow pit or using tissues and immediately discarding them after use can truly decrease the burden of illness during the yearly flu season.

It is very important to ask your children’s school or daycare their hygiene practices as this is directly related to your child’s well-being. Is the school regularly sanitised, especially during flu season? Is good transmission prevention practiced and promoted at school?

Another important factor in the management of flu season is the vaccination of those who take care of our most vulnerable population such as teachers, daycare workers, nannies and parents.

So, are you and your children’s carers vaccinated and following appropriate hygiene practices?

Information provided by:
Dr. Miko Kalloo and Dr. Chela Lamsee-Ebanks, paediatricians at the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority.