Childhood diseases like measles and mumps: they’re not just for kids anymore!

childhood diseases, measles, mumps

© smartview27 | Dreamstime.com

How you can avoid the outbreak of childhood diseases, and what to do if you develop one

As if the flu and Ebola weren’t enough to worry about, now we’re hearing increasing stories of outbreaks of childhood diseases among adults. Angelina Jolie misses the premier of her new film due to a case of chickenpox. NHL hockey players sit out games because they’re coming down with the mumps, along with approximately 1,100 other Americans in 2014. In California, there’s an outbreak of whooping cough, among kids and adults. There’s also a multi-state outbreak of measles, 102 cases in January alone, most linked to Disneyland. Most of the measles cases were among people who were not vaccinated. (Measles cases in 2014 were triple the number from the previous year.)

Even adults who were vaccinated against these diseases as kids are contracting them at record rates. So, what’s happening and why are adults becoming victim to diseases we thought only children could catch?

Waning immunity
People old enough to remember the days before vaccines for mumps, measles and chickenpox probably contracted these diseases when they were young, so they have natural immunity and will be unlikely to succumb to the maladies. But adults who were vaccinated as young children, and therefore didn’t contract the diseases, may become vulnerable again because immunity can fade over time.

If you are concerned that your immunity may be wearing off, ask your doctor about a blood test that checks for antibodies to see if you are still immune. This is especially important for people with chronic medical conditions or who do a lot of foreign travel. And be sure you are up to date on vaccinations the CDC recommends for adults: a booster shot every 10 years for tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough, and an annual flu shot.

Lower vaccination rates for children
The best defense against childhood diseases is to have your children vaccinated. In some parts of the country, skepticism regarding the safety of vaccines has resulted in fewer children being vaccinated for chickenpox, measles, mumps and whooping cough. Among parents of kindergarten children in California, “personal belief exemptions” rose from 1.56 percent in 2007-08 up to 2.79 percent in 2012-13. With fewer children being vaccinated against these diseases, they are much more likely to spread from one person to another.

Childhood diseases that are affecting adults
Chickenpox
Causes fatigue, irritability, itchy rash that progresses to raised red bumps and then blisters. Adults who get chicken pox are more likely to contract pneumonia, hepatitis or encephalitis. This virus can also resurface years later as shingles.

Treatment: Bed rest, lots of fluids, a fever-reducer and an antihistamine to relieve itching. Calamine lotion or an oatmeal bath may also relieve symptoms.

Whooping Cough
Causes violent coughing accompanied by a “whooping” sound, nasal discharge, fever, sore and watery eyes. Lips, tongue and nail beds may turn blue during coughing spells. It can last up to 10 weeks and can lead to pneumonia and other complications.

Treatment: Antibiotics, keeping warm, plenty of fluids and reducing stimuli that provoke coughing.

Measles
Causes a rash, fever, runny nose, conjunctivitis, cough, swollen lymph nodes and headache. It can have serious complications in adults and can be fatal for children and adults with compromised immune systems. Complications include ear infection, pneumonia, vomiting, diarrhea and encephalitis.

Treatment: Plenty of fluids, fever reducer and antibiotics if a secondary infection develops.

Mumps
Causes discomfort and swelling of salivary glands in front of neck, difficulty chewing, fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness and loss of appetite. In males it can cause pain and tenderness of testicles, and, on rare occasions, sterility.

Treatment: Bed rest and analgesics (acetaminophen, ibuprofen) for fever and pain and applying cold packs to the swollen and inflamed salivary gland region may reduce symptoms and pain.

Fifth Disease
Causes cold-like symptoms and bright red rash that spreads from the cheeks to trunk, arms and legs. There may also be fever, headache, sore throat, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea. It can be associated with persistent fevers and arthritis in adults.

Treatment: Plenty of fluids,­­­ fever reducer and antihistamine for itching.