Almost all babies, toddlers and children will get the most common childhood illnesses like chickenpox, colds, sore throats and ear infections. While these are not very nice at the time they are easy to treat by your GP or at home with the support from a GP or health visitor rather than an unnecessary trip to A&E. Here you will find information about some of the most common infectious childhood illnesses.

Incubation period: One to three weeks

Infectious period: The most infectious time is one to two days before the rash appears, but it continues to be infectious until all the blisters have crusted over.


Chickenpox is a mild infectious disease that most children catch at some time. It starts with feeling unwell, a rash and, usually, a fever.

Spots develop, which are red and become fluid-filled blisters within a day or two. They eventually dry into scabs, which drop off. The spots first appear on the chest, back, head or neck, then spread. They don’t leave scars unless they’re badly infected or picked.

What to do

You don’t need to go to your GP or accident and emergency (A&E) department unless you’re unsure whether it’s chickenpox, or your child is very unwell or distressed.

  • Give your child plenty to drink.
  • Use the recommended dose of paracetamol to relieve any fever or discomfort. Ibuprofen isn’t recommended for children who have chickenpox as, in rare cases, it can cause skin complications.
  • Taking baths, wearing loose, comfortable clothes and using calamine lotion can all ease the itchiness.
  • Try to discourage or distract your child from scratching, as this will increase the risk of scarring. Keeping their nails short will help.
  • Let your child’s school or nursery know they are ill, in case other children are at risk.
  • Keep your child away from anyone who is pregnant or trying to get pregnant. If your child had contact with a pregnant woman just before they became unwell, let the woman know about the chickenpox and suggest that she sees her GP or midwife. For women who have never had chickenpox, catching the illness in pregnancy can cause miscarriage, or the baby may be born with chickenpox.

For more information on chickenpox visit NHS UK

The first symptoms may include:

  • a high temperature (fever), usually around 38-39C (100.4-102.2F)
  • a general sense of feeling unwell
  • loss of appetite
  • coughing
  • abdominal (tummy) pain
  • a sore throat and mouth

After one or two days, red spots appear on the tongue and inside the mouth. These quickly develop into larger yellow-grey mouth ulcers with red edges. These ulcers can be painful and make eating, drinking and swallowing difficult. They should pass within a week.

Soon after the mouth ulcers appear, you'll probably notice a rash made up of small, raised red spots on the skin. These typically develop on the fingers, the backs or palms of the hand, the soles of the feet, and occasionally on the buttocks and groin. The spots may then turn into small blisters with a grey centre. These spots and blisters can sometimes be itchy or uncomfortable and typically last up to 10 days.

What to do

If you have hand, foot and mouth disease, the best thing to do is to stay at home until you're feeling better. There's no cure for it, so you have to let it run its course.

To help ease your or your child's symptoms:

  • Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration – water or milk are ideal; it may help to give a baby smaller but more frequent bottle or breast milk feeds
  • Eat soft foods such as mashed potatoes, yoghurt and soups if eating and swallowing is uncomfortable – avoid hot, acidic or spicy foods and drinks
  • Take over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, to ease a sore throat and fever – aspirin shouldn't be given to children under the age of 16; paracetamol is best if you're pregnant
  • Try gargling with warm, salty water to relieve discomfort from mouth ulcers – it's important not to swallow the mixture, so this isn't recommended for young children
  • Alternatively, use mouth gels, rinses or sprays for mouth ulcers – these are available from pharmacies, but aren't routinely recommended, and some aren't suitable for young children; ask your pharmacist for advice and make sure you read the instructions first

You should keep your child away from nursery or school until they're feeling better. Adults with the condition should stay away from work until they're feeling better.

For more information on hand, foot and mouth disease visit NHS UK

Incubation period: 7 to 12 days

Infectious period: From around 4 days before the rash appears until 4 days after it’s gone.


  • Measles begins like a bad cold and cough with sore, watery eyes.
  • Your child will become gradually more unwell, with a fever.
  • A rash appears after the third or fourth day. The spots are red and slightly raised. They may be blotchy, but not itchy. The rash begins behind the ears and spreads to the face and neck, then the rest of the body.
  • The illness usually lasts about a week.

Measles is much more serious than chickenpox, German measles, or mumps. It’s best prevented by the MMR vaccination. Serious complications include pneumonia and death.

What to do

  • Make sure your child gets plenty of rest and plenty to drink. Warm drinks will ease the cough.
  • Give them paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve the fever and discomfort.
  • Put Vaseline around their lips to protect their skin.
  • If their eyelids are crusty, gently wash them with warm water.
  • If your child is having trouble breathing, has a seizure, is coughing a lot or seems drowsy, seek urgent medical advice.

For more information on measles visit NHS UK.

Incubation period: 14 to 25 days

Infectious period: From a few days before starting to feel unwell until a few days afterwards.


  • A general feeling of being unwell.
  • A high temperature.
  • Pain and swelling on the side of the face (in front of the ear) and under the chin. Swelling usually begins on one side, followed by the other side, though not always.
  • Discomfort when chewing.

Your child’s face will be back to normal size in about a week. It’s rare for mumps to affect boys’ testes (balls) – this happens more often in adult men with mumps. If you think your child’s testes are swollen or painful, see your GP.

What to do

  • Give your child paracetamol or ibuprofen to ease pain in the swollen glands. Check the pack for the correct dosage.
  • Give your child plenty to drink, but not fruit juices, as they make the saliva flow, which can worsen your child’s pain.
  • There’s no need to see your GP, unless your child has other symptoms, such as a severe headache, vomiting, rash or, in boys, swollen testes.
  • Mumps can be prevented by the MMR vaccine.

For more information on mumps visit NHS UK.

Incubation period: 14 to 25 days

Infectious period: Up to 7 days before symptoms start until 24 hours after you take the first antibiotic tablet(s). Those who do not take antibiotics can be infectious for 2 to 3 weeks after symptoms start.

This is a bacterial infection that is mainly seen in children aged 2-8 years.


  • Symptoms include fever, headache and then a blanching , rough red pin prick rash which usually starts on the abdomen with spreading to other limbs (sandpaper feel).
  • Other symptoms can include a flushed face, a swollen tongue and a red throat.

What to do

Treatment of Scarlet Fever if suspected is an antibiotic which can be prescribed by your GP. It is also a notifiable disease and children should be excluded from day care for 24 hrs.

For more information on scarlet fever visit NHS UK

Incubation period: 1 to 20 days

Infectious period: A few days before the rash appears.  Once the rash has appeared children are no longer contagious.


  • It begins with a fever and nasal discharge.
  • A bright red rash, like the mark left by a slap, appears on the cheeks.
  • Over the next two to four days, a lacy rash spreads to the trunk and limbs.
  • Children with blood disorders such as spherocytosis or sickle cell disease may become more anaemic. They should seek medical care.

What to do

  • Make sure your child rests and drinks plenty of fluids.
  • Give them paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve any discomfort and fever.
  • Pregnant women or women planning to become pregnant should see their GP or midwife as soon as possible if they come into contact with the infection or develop a rash.

For more information on slapped cheek syndrome visit NHS UK.

Incubation period: 15 to 20 days

Infectious period: From one week before symptoms develop until up to four days after the rash appeared.


  • It starts like a mild cold.
  • A rash appears in a day or two, first on the face, then on the body. The spots are flat and are pale pink on light skin.
  • Glands in the back of the neck may be swollen.
  • Your child won’t usually feel unwell.

It can be difficult to diagnose rubella with certainty.

What to do

  • Give your child plenty to drink.
  • Give them paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve any discomfort or fever.
  • Keep them away from anybody who’s in the early stages of pregnancy (up to four months) or trying to get pregnant. If your child has had contact with any pregnant women before you knew about the illness, you must let the women know, as they’ll need to see their GP.
  • Rubella can be prevented by the MMR vaccine.

For more information on rubella visit NHS UK

Incubation period: 6 to 21 days

Infectious period: From the first signs of the illness until about three weeks after coughing starts. If an antibiotic is given, the infectious period will continue for up to five days after starting treatment. Antibiotics need to be given early in the course of the illness to improve symptoms.


  • The symptoms are similar to a cold and cough, with the cough gradually getting worse.
  • After about two weeks, coughing fits start. These are exhausting and make it difficult to breathe.
  • Younger children (babies under six months) are much more seriously affected and can have breath-holding or blue attacks, even before they develop a cough.
  • Your child may choke and vomit.
  • Sometimes, but not always, there will be a whooping noise as the child draws in breath after coughing.
  • The coughing fits may continue for several weeks, and can go on for up to three months.

What to do

  • Whooping cough is best prevented through immunisation.
  • If your child has a cough that gets worse rather than better, and starts to have longer fits of coughing more often, see your GP.
  • It’s important for the sake of other children to know whether or not your child has whooping cough. Talk to your GP about how to look after your child. Avoid contact with babies, who are most at risk from serious complications.
  • Whooping cough can be prevented by childhood vaccinations.

For more information on whooping cough visit NHS UK