Childhood Contagious Diseases
Children have maturing immune systems and are often in close proximity to one another, such as in day-care centers, classrooms, and on school busses. This makes the transmission of contagious diseases particularly easy and explains, in part, why these diseases are so common in children. Contagious diseases are often caused by the spread of bacteria (such as in scarlet fever) or viruses (such as in chickenpox, measles, hand-foot-and-mouth disease, and quite a few others) in droplets of saliva and mucus, especially when coughing or sneezing. Contagious diseases may also occur by coming in close personal contact with another infected person or even by sharing personal items of an infected person, as in the case with infestation caused by insects (such as with lice and scabies) or a fungal infection (such as in tinea infections, commonly called "ringworm").
Fortunately, many childhood diseases, once contracted, result in lifelong immunity in the infected child. However, this is not always the case. Vaccinations also provide immunity to some of the below diseases. Chickenpox, for example, is much less prevalent now than it was 15 years ago and is generally mild when contracted by a child who has had a chickenpox vaccination.
Unfortunately, many of these diseases are most contagious before the infected child has any symptoms of the disease, making transmission even more likely among peers. Skin changes are commonly seen during some stage of each of the below diseases, which can help differentiate between the different childhood contagious diseases and can help you decide when and if to call your child's doctor.
Click any of the images below to gain medical information about what skin changes are common in contagious diseases of childhood.
Fifth Disease (Erythema Infectiosum)
Fifth disease (erythema infectiosum), also called slapped-cheek disease, is a common illness in young children due to infection with parvovirus B19. Fifth disease is spread by contact with others who are…
Roseola (Sixth Disease)
Roseola, also known as sixth disease, exanthem subitum, and roseola infantum, is a mild illness that mainly affects children that will go away on its own. Roseola is caused by viruses of the herpes type. Infected…
Measles (rubeola) is a highly contagious infection of the respiratory system, which is caused by a virus. It does not occur often in the United States, since immunizations have been required since the 1960s.
Chickenpox (varicella) is an infectious disease caused by the varicella zoster virus that goes away on its own. Infection spreads among humans through fluids from the airways, such as from coughing and sneezing…
Scarlet fever is an infection with a type of bacteria called Streptococcus,
which not only causes a throat infection ("strep throat"), but also produces a poison (toxin) causing the distinctive rash of…
German Measles (Rubella)
German measles (rubella) is caused by the rubella virus and spreads among humans through contact with fluids in the respiratory tract. The development (incubation) period of German measles is 14–21 days…
Scabies is an itchy skin condition caused by a tiny parasite (mite) called Sarcoptes scabiei that can live and multiply (infest) on skin. They are passed between people by prolonged skin-to-skin contact.
Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis)
Pink eye (conjunctivitis) is an inflammation of the tissue on the surface of the eye and/or the inside lining of the eyelids. Common causes in children are usually due to infection with viruses or bacteria…
Ringworm, Scalp (Tinea Capitis)
Scalp ringworm (tinea capitis) is a common mild infection of the scalp and hair that appears as scaly spots and patches of broken hair on the head. Caused by a fungus, it is most commonly seen in children.
Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is a suddenly appearing (acute), self-limited viral disease caused by viruses of the enterovirus group, particularly Coxsackievirus A16. The development (incubation) period…