Parents know the score. If you have kids in school, they are going to get sick. Probably a lot. And there’s a pretty good chance you’ll get it too. For many households, it’s a normal part of the deal, more frustrating than it is alarming.
However, for a minority of patients, common childhood illnesses can take a much darker turn. Some patients experience enduring symptoms that can last for months, or even years after they were infected. In this article, we take a look at the long-term effects of common childhood illnesses.
The Potential Long-Term Effects of Common Illnesses
Most common illnesses that circulate during the fall and winter seasons can come with long-term health impacts. While rare, long-haul symptoms can have a significant impact on the sufferer’s quality of life. For example:
- COVID-19: COVID-19 long-haul symptoms vary significantly and can involve everything from prolonged loss of taste and smell to scarring on the lung and heart tissue. Doctors are still working to fully understand the long-term consequences of a Covid infection.
- Flu: A small minority of flu patients experience long-term respiratory illness that can impact their ability to breathe. While this outcome is rare in children, it can sometimes require hospitalization to treat.
- Common cold: Even the common cold can have enduring side effects. These are particularly common among people who have separate respiratory problems, like asthma. For them, coughs can often endure for many weeks after all other symptoms have subsided.
The odds of experiencing long-haul symptoms can depend on the strain of the illness. Viruses mutate over time as a way to increase their chances of survival and proliferation. In the next heading, we explain how that takes place.
How Do Viruses Mutate?
Viruses do not replicate the same way other organisms do. Instead, they basically board other cells and spread through them. However, as the virus replicates, errors in the DNA or RNA structure of the cell frequently occur. When these errors take place the virus changes or “mutates.”
Often, these mutations are subtle. Sometimes, they can be significant. Mutations often take place in response to external stimulation such as the host’s immune system, inoculation, or broader social responses.
Typically, mutations will enhance the virus’s survival chances. It is an evolutionary process designed to increase genetic diversity among viruses, often with the consequence of thwarting vaccines and other treatment methods.
Some viruses have very high mutation rates. The flu and Covid are both very good examples of viruses that frequently mutate. When you go in for your annual checkup and are warned by the doctor that there is a “bad strain of the flu going around,” they are most likely talking about a mutation.
Virus mutations are one of the reasons why you can never grow complacent when it comes to keeping your children safe from illness.
Do Vaccines Protect Against Mutations?
Vaccines can have varying degrees of success against viral mutations. Some strains are harder to protect against than others. In virtually every case, it is better to get inoculated than to not. Even in situations where you can’t completely avoid illness, the consequences are often smaller.
Vaccinated sick patients typically experience less severe symptoms and shorter illness duration. There are, of course, exceptions to this. Everyone has had years where they did everything right and still got sick.
It’s ultimately a matter of probability. Regardless of how bad a mutant strain is, you and your children will fare better against it once you’ve been vaccinated.
What About Natural Immunity?
Natural immunity absolutely can help you and your family stay safe from future infection. Natural immunity usually occurs as the result of exposure to a virus. Once your body has been infected, your immune system begins to bolster its defenses to avoid repeating the incident in the future.
Experts almost unanimously agree that natural immunity strategies should be used in conjunction with induced immunity.
In other words, you shouldn’t forgo vaccines so that you can rely only on natural immunity. Doing so exposes you and your family to the long-term risks of illness. It also puts your community at risk.
Take every step you can to avoid infection. In situations where it happens anyway, you can at least be glad that your body will be a little bit more protected in the future.
Do Most Illnesses Have Long-Term Consequences?
The good news is that the long-term side effects described in this article are pretty rare. Even Covid long haul symptoms which were frequently discussed during the pandemic only impacted around 8% of people.
There are peripheral impacts of childhood illness that do bear consideration, even if they don’t come with life-long ramifications. Children who are frequently sick may miss a significant amount of school or find themselves excluded from social opportunities.
They also run the risk of passing illness on to their friends and family members, which can be an emotionally fraught experience.
In general, it’s best to keep your child as protected from illness as possible. They will still get sick—probably a lot—but by maintaining careful vigilance you can do a lot to keep your child safe.
My Child Got Sick. Now What Should I Do?
While it can be nerve-racking when your child becomes ill, there is no need to panic. Your first step should always be to consult with the child’s physician. Your family doctor will be aware of the child’s health history and will be able to provide the best recommendations.
Sometimes, this may involve general advice like staying hydrated or eating a nutritionally rich diet. Other times, prescriptions and other more targeted treatments may be necessary.
Following a serious illness, monitor your child carefully for signs of grogginess, changes in appetite, or other indications that their health has not returned to how it was before their illness. Any unexpected changes—particularly prolonged changes—are worth bringing to your family’s medical professional.
No one wants to feel like an overly fussy parent, but it’s always best to proceed with an abundance of caution when it comes to maintaining your child’s health.
It’s unreasonable to expect your children to never get sick. Schools are bacteria breeding grounds and chances are that when one kid in a classroom strikes ill, the germs will circulate throughout the classroom like wildfire.
You can’t protect against that. All you can do is take every possible precaution to protect your child from risk and respond effectively when illness does strike. Good hygiene and inoculation habits can go a long way toward keeping your child, and everyone they come into contact with safe.