Childhood diseases in adults: Understanding risk, complications, and prevention

2023-06-02 14:25:24

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Von: Natalie Hull Drawbar

Measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox and scarlet fever are commonly considered childhood diseases. These diseases can have complications and long-term consequences, especially for adults.

Infectious diseases such as rubella, chickenpox or measles are often grouped together as so-called childhood diseases, since they can spread quickly due to the high risk of infection, so that most people contract them as children. However, adults can also suffer from these diseases, often with a more severe course, if they did not already have the disease as a child or are vaccinated against it.

In contrast to diseases that usually heal well, such as head lice, hand, foot and mouth disease or three-day fever, infections caused by supposed childhood diseases can be difficult for both children and adults and can be associated with complications or even long-term effects. The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) therefore regularly makes public recommendations.

Measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox and scarlet fever: Severe courses are possible

Supposed childhood diseases such as chickenpox, measles and rubella are highly contagious, even for adults, and can be associated with complications and long-term effects. © Nina Janeckova/Imago

The most well-known childhood diseases are measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox and scarlet fever, each of which is caused by a virus or bacteria such as streptococci and can spread suddenly. Most are associated with a high fever and flu-like symptoms as well as a painful and itchy rash – raised, red blisters appear in chickenpox, in measles rather large, red spots.

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Measles infection: What serious courses and late effects are possible from the virus

Since severe disease progression with measles is not uncommon, vaccination is now compulsory in Germany for all those who visit or work in public facilities such as daycare centers and schools. Employees in refugee accommodation, medical practices and hospitals must also be demonstrably protected against the infectious disease in order to also protect others such as babies and small children under the age of two and people with weak immune systems.

Measles occurs in two phases of the disease: First of all, those affected show fever, cold symptoms, for example body aches and sometimes very light-sensitive eyes up to conjunctivitis, especially in adults. In some cases, children and adults develop white coatings on the mucous membrane in the mouth, so-called “Koplik’s spots”. The second phase of the disease usually occurs after two to four days: The whole body – starting on the face and behind the ears – is covered with the typical skin rash, the bright red, non-itching, merging patches.

Although children can develop measles without severe symptoms, the risk of complications is particularly high in babies and adults. Since measles viruses can severely weaken the immune system for months, secondary diseases such as middle ear and pneumonia are possible. In the worst case, a dangerous encephalitis, post-infectious encephalitis, or a measles SSPE, the so-called subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, can occur as a late consequence of the measles, such as the RKI warns.

Chickenpox: Highly contagious viral infection that is often more severe in adults

Chickenpox is an infectious disease that primarily affects children. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is a form of herpes. In newborns and people with a weakened immune system, serious illnesses can develop, sometimes with a fatal outcome. A severe form of chickenpox can also occur in otherwise healthy children. The importance of chickenpox arises primarily from the risk of possible complications, such as bacterial superinfection of the skin inflammation, mostly caused by streptococci.

A very serious complication is varicella pneumonia, an infection of the lungs more common in adults than children, which can develop about three to five days after the onset of chickenpox. Pregnant women are particularly at risk Robert Koch Institute. Anyone who falls ill with chickenpox can later develop what is known as shingles, which can also lead to serious complications such as encephalitis.

Rubella: Danger for women during pregnancy, serious complications possible in adults

Pregnant women are also at risk when it comes to possible long-term effects of the rubella virus. The risk for the fetus in the first few weeks of pregnancy is particularly high due to a so-called rubella embryopathy. This can lead to a miscarriage or significant disabilities of the child. The earlier a woman becomes infected with the rubella virus during pregnancy, the more serious the complications. The only protection for the pregnant woman is ultimately antibodies that she was able to develop herself due to a rubella infection before pregnancy or through a vaccination. At the same time, the risk of long-term consequences for the unborn child is minimized the more children and adults in the area can no longer pass on the rubella virus – whether through an infection that has already been overcome or through vaccination against rubella.

Other possible complications – especially in adolescents and adults – are:

  • Bronchitis
  • otitis media
  • joint pain
  • Inflammation of the brain called encephalitis
  • heart muscle inflammation
  • pericarditis

The rubella virus is transmitted via the finest droplets when speaking, coughing or direct smearing contact.

Mumps: Infection can cause male infertility

Transmission of the mumps virus and infection occurs through droplet infection and direct contact with saliva, more rarely through objects contaminated with saliva. The disease first becomes noticeable through flu-like symptoms such as exhaustion, loss of appetite, headache and body aches as well as fever, which is followed by a very painful, inflammatory swelling of the parotid glands – on one or both sides. A number of complications can arise as part of the disease Robert Koch Institute, which become more common with age. A disease of the brain and central nervous system (CNS), which affects males more frequently than females, is one of the most common complications after inflammation of the salivary glands.

There is another complication in adolescent or adult men: 15 to 30 percent of those affected develop an infection of the testicles (orchitis), which in rare cases can also lead to persistent infertility. In women, on the other hand, mumps infection can cause inflammation of the mammary glands (mastitis) in around 30 percent of cases, or inflammation of the ovaries (oophoritis) in around five percent of cases. Approximately four percent of patients develop pancreatic disease (pancreatitis), kidney inflammation (nephritis) or heart muscle inflammation as a result. Mumps encephalitis can be fatal in 1.5 percent of cases.

Scarlet fever: Streptococcal infection can cause long-term effects in adults

Scarlet fever is considered a classic childhood disease and is one of the most common bacterial infectious diseases in this age group Federal Center for Health Education (BZgA). Scarlet fever is highly contagious and is caused by so-called group A streptococci. Typical symptoms are a severe sore throat and a skin rash. The bacteria develop various toxins, so-called toxins, which make it possible to contract multiple scarlet fevers, especially during the colder season between October and March. If a scarlet fever infection is not treated with antibiotics as quickly as possible, it can lead to serious complications and long-term effects, especially in adults. These include, for example, chronic joint problems (polyarthritis), pneumonia, heart muscle inflammation (endocarditis), kidney damage, meningitis (meningitis) or rheumatic fever, as Dr. Ursula Marschall, senior physician at the BARMER explained.

This article only contains general information on the respective health topic and is therefore not intended for self-diagnosis, treatment or medication. In no way does it replace a visit to the doctor. Unfortunately, our editorial team cannot answer individual questions about clinical pictures.

#childhood #diseases #pose #risks #chickenpox #measles

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