Chickenpox, measles, mumps and meningitis

Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Chickenpox is a viral illness caused by the herpes zoster virus (also known as varicella). It is very contagious and occurs commonly in children. People rarely get chickenpox twice but once children have had chickenpox , they can develop shingles later on. Over 90 per cent of the population have had chickenpox by the age of 15 years.

The virus is spread by coughing and by direct contact with skin sores. Illness usually starts with a fever and a runny nose. Blisters develop in crops a day or two after the start of the fever. These blisters then become open sores that finally dry and crust. The first blisters usually appear on the head and neck area and then on the arms and legs.

Your child should rest as much as possible, drink lots of fluids and avoid scratching. Vaccination is recommended and freely available to all children to prevent this infection.


Measles is one of the most infectious and serious childhood illnesses. It is caused by a virus and spread by kissing, coughing and sneezing. The illness begins with a fever, cough, runny nose, tiredness and inflamed eyes. A red rash then appears on the face and trunk and spreads elsewhere. Serious complications can occur such as ear infections and pneumonia; rarely, inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) and even death.

Vaccination is recommended and freely available for all children to prevent disease.

Note: Children with measles must not attend childcare centres or school until four days after the appearance of the rash.


Mumps is a viral illness that affects the salivary glands resulting in swelling near the jaw joint. Infection is spread by droplets from sneezing, coughing or talking. Vaccination is recommended and freely available for all children. This can prevent the pain and its complications, including inflammation of the testes in boys.


Meningitis is an infection of the lining of the brain and is usually due to either viruses or bacteria.

Children with meningitis may initially appear to have a common or viral infection. Usually they develop a high fever, headache, loss of appetite and drowsiness or irritability. They can develop convulsions or go into a coma and sometimes they develop a purple rash. They may complain that the light hurts their eyes. They may have a stiff neck. Small babies may have a bulging fontanelle (soft spot on the top of their heads).

The most common causes of bacterial meningitis in children in Australia are the meningococcus and the pneumococcus bacteria. There are many strains of meningococci: one vaccine that protects against meningococcal C is recommended and freely available for all children. There is no vaccine yet against type B, the most common strain in Australia. The introduction of the Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) vaccine has virtually eliminated Hib meningitis.

If you suspect meningitis, take your child to a doctor or hospital urgently.

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