Why is my child sick all the time? This is a question many of us at Integra are being asked by families. We have certainly seen lots of poorly children over the past months. This includes many catching one illness on the tail end of the last.To a certain extent, this is a normal part of childhood. A ‘healthy’ child will have 8 to 10 infections per year. When you consider that many of these will last for 7-10 days or so, it can easily feel like they are always ill. Hard as it is as a parent to see your child feeling unwell, it is a necessary process for them to go through to strengthen their immune system. Meeting and fighting different infections allow children to develop an immune response and protect themselves against becoming unwell next time they meet the same bug or pathogen (bacteria or virus). This is called immune memory.The immunization programme is a very important part of developing immune memory. It helps to expose children to certain pathogens without causing the full effects of the illness but priming the immune system in case those pathogens are encountered in the future.
The impact of Covid-19 lockdown measures
Children across the world have had periods of social isolation during lockdown measures and many parents appreciated the ‘illness-free’ periods that were seen as a result. However, children were not exposed to the common illnesses that they should have met. Consequently, their immune systems are less strong. Now that the world is trying to live with Covid and carry on, children are back at school and childcare settings and are encountering the usual childhood illnesses but with no immune memory. In some cases, delayed immunisations for various reasons related to the pandemic or due to parental choices, contribute to this problem. Our children have an ‘immunity debt’ as described by several scientists.Across the world, different patterns of respiratory infections have been noted, including RSV (Respiratory Syncitial Virus) and adenovirus- with these infections being seen ‘out of season’ affecting many children significantly. It has been suggested that the ‘immunity debt’ seen in children may have contributed to the much rarer complication of adenovirus infection – hepatitis – seeing an outbreak of cases worldwide but particularly in the UK over recent months. This is still under investigation as not fully understood.
So, what does this all mean for our children?
We will continue to see slightly unusual illness patterns for now whilst we recover from the wider effects of the pandemic. Every time your child fights an infection, they are in fact developing their immune memory. Therefore, this will help them in the long run. Most childhood infections are viral which means that antibiotics are not needed or effective. Viruses can still make children feel very poorly and cause some impressive fevers. However, this is a sign of the body doing what it should and fighting the infection.
You can support this process by making sure your child is drinking enough fluid and passing urine regularly. You can also manage the fever by giving paracetamol or ibuprofen to bring it down. It remains important as ever to keep your child up to date with their immunisations. Doing this helps them to develop their immune memory and protect them from more serious infections. We know how worrying it is when your child is unwell, we have all been there ourselves as parents. We are always happy to see your child and advise, even if it is just to reassure you and ask you to keep doing what you’re doing at home. The good news is, as children get older their immune systems will be a lot more robust once their immune memory has been built.