Children’s diseases – only for little ones?

A red, itchy rash: In adults, an  allergy is often the first thing that comes to mind . But age does not protect against childhood illnesses – contrary to what the name suggests, they can also affect adults, and often severely. But what exactly are childhood illnesses?

Typical childhood illnesses

First of all, childhood illnesses can be defined as all diseases that can affect the little ones, more narrowly defined especially those that occur particularly frequently in childhood. These include respiratory infections, tonsillitis, middle ear, pneumonia and meningitis, but also allergies,  pseudocroup  and gastrointestinal infections. It is not always possible to identify a cause for the typical symptoms in childhood such as  fever  (including febrile seizures),  cough , stomach ache,  diarrhea  and vomiting.

With the narrowest, at the same time also classical meaning of the term only certain infectious diseases are meant:


If one does not include all illnesses that can affect the little ones under children’s diseases, but only the classic children’s diseases in the narrower sense, they have one thing in common: they are quite contagious. That’s why the pathogens are always circulating, are widespread and you come into contact with them early in life and become infected – children’s diseases.

Once you’ve gone through it, you’re usually immune to re-infection for the rest of your life. But: In the last few decades, great efforts have been made to eradicate childhood diseases or at least to protect individuals from infection.

However, the vaccinations used for this have the disadvantage that the protection against infection often does not last for life. A possible consequence is that more and more adults are contracting a childhood disease for the first time, namely when the immunity achieved through vaccination is waning. Unfortunately, the course of events is then often not child’s play, but rather puts those affected out of action; Complications also occur more frequently in adulthood.


The commonalities that apply to all of them end with the fact that childhood diseases are highly contagious infectious diseases. Children’s illnesses are caused by viruses or bacteria and take very different courses – different incubation periods (duration between infection and outbreak), duration of the symptoms from a few days to several weeks, with or without a rash, from mild cold-like symptoms to serious complications. Some of the childhood diseases are dangerous during pregnancy, while others are harmless to the unborn child. You can vaccinate against some, but not against others.

Inkubations­zeit Krankheits­dauer
Dreitage­fieber 7-14 Take usually 3-4 days, max. 1 week
Keuch­husten 7-20 Take Pre-stage 1-2 weeks, cramp stage 3-6 weeks, recovery phase several weeks
Kinder­lähmung usually no or slight symptoms for 2-3 days; otherwise longer duration with paralysis
measles 7-12 Takes better after about 5 days, then a few more days; with complications longer; Late consequence: insidious meningitis (SSPE)
Mumps 14-21 Take about 1 week; longer in case of complications
ringworm 7-18 Take Symptoms of a cold for a few days, rash possibly for weeks
rubella 14-21 Take a few days
Scarlet fever 3-5 Takes few days symptoms of sore throat, rash and scaling 1-2 weeks; longer in case of complications
Wind­pocken 14-21 Take days to weeks


rash Lifelong immunity as a rule vaccination possible
three days fever and and no
Keuch­husten no no and
Kinder­lähmung no no and
measles and and and
Mumps no and and
ringworm and and no
rubella and and and
Scarlet fever and no no
Wind­pocken and Yes; but  shingles  as a secondary disease and


Most childhood diseases can be vaccinated preventively – the classic among vaccinations. Unfortunately, in recent years there has been an increasing number of controversies between vaccination advocates and vaccination critics or even opponents. Since these discussions are often not very factual and very dogmatic, they are of little help to the parents, who want the best for their child and have to decide between the individual arguments.

At the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) in Berlin, there is a panel of experts appointed by the Federal Minister of Health, the Standing Vaccination Commission (STIKO). This gives constantly updated vaccination recommendations. If these have been included by the state health authorities in their “public recommendations”, statutory health insurance companies will cover the costs for the vaccinations. In addition, the state is obliged to compensate for any vaccination damage. The disadvantage, however, is that this only provides a generally valid vaccination scheme for all persons of a corresponding age group; the individual situation of child and parents cannot be taken into account.

Since vaccinations are not mandatory in Germany, it is possible to deviate from the general scheme if the parents so wish. Parents should therefore discuss the pros and cons of vaccinations and the individual approach with their pediatrician.

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