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Kids’ Ailments Adults Can Get Too!

Think you’re too old for mumps and chickenpox? Think again. Some illnesses and conditions are ageless, but here’s what you need to know about preventing and treating common conditions.

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.


  • 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.)


  • 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.


  • 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.

Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

  • Caused By: Bacteria
  • Symptoms and Spread: A gasping cough accompanied by a runny nose and low-grade fever. Whooping cough is airborne and can cause lethal pneumonia and seizures in infants.
  • Prevention: Vaccination again, this time the combined DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) vaccine shots for children and boosters for teens and adults.
  • Treatment: Your doctor will probably prescribe antibiotics.

Cradle Cap and Dandruff:

  • Caused By: The infantile form of seborrheic dermatitis is called cradle cap. In adults, it’s known more commonly as dandruff. Both ailments are caused by an overproduction of oil by the body’s sebaceous glands. They may be aggravated by a common fungus.
  • Symptoms and Spread: You’ll see yellow, scaly patches on a baby’s scalp, ears, eyes, nose or groin. In adults, waxy white flakes appear on the scalp. This condition is not contagious, but it may run in families.
  • Treatment: For adults, use a dandruff shampoo regularly. For babies, a gentle dandruff shampoo may help loosen flakes, after which you can use a soft brush or towel to help clear the affected areas. For stubborn cases, your pediatrician may prescribe a stronger shampoo and ointment.

Fifth Disease

  • Caused By: A virus
  • Symptoms and Spread: In kids, you’ll see a telltale rash on the chest, limbs or face, leading to the alternate name “slapped cheek disease.” The rash is accompanied by a low fever and cold-like symptoms. In adults, symptoms include a rash, plus joint pain and swelling that can linger. Fifth disease is spread by saliva and mucus. Because the illness may pose a risk of miscarriage, pregnant women should consult their physicians if they’re exposed to a child or adult who has it.
  • Treatment: Fifth disease goes away on its own. Simply treat any bothersome symptoms with acetaminophen or ibuprofen.


  • Caused By: Infection by either streptococcus or staphylococcus bacteria, both fairly common on healthy skin.
  • Symptoms and Spread: Impetigo causes itchy, oozing blisters around open wounds or scratches from poison ivy or insect bites. The condition is contagious to those who touch the affected area — or even any fabric (like towels or sheets) that has been in contact with the wound.
  • Treatment: Wash the blistered area daily with antiseptic soap and keep it bandaged. Call your doctor, who may prescribe antibiotics. Launder the affected person’s sheets, towels and clothing separately in very hot water, and wash your hands often with antiseptic soap.


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