If you were one of those lucky children to have avoided the chicken pox, you might assume that, as an adult, you’re home free. What you may not realize is that, by not having the disease as a youth, you can actually cause yourself some major health problems later in life. Having chicken pox once gives you a lifelong immunity, which can be important as you get older.
There are a number of childhood illnesses that, while annoying and sometimes difficult as a child, can be even more problematic when you’re an adult. Here’s a look at some childhood illnesses and what you should know about them now that you’re grown:
As a child, chicken pox makes you itchy and gives you a red rash. As an adult, however, you’re likely to experience upper respiratory congestion, high fever, and intense itching. You’re at an increased risk for contracting pneumonia, hepatitis, or even encephalitis because of a weakened immune system. It can stay in your body dormant for years and appear later on as a painful rash of blisters known as shingles. Around 20% of adults who get chicken pox get pneumonia, and about 10% develop shingles.
If you had chicken pox as a child or if you’ve had the chicken pox vaccine, you should be safe. The vaccine works with 9 out of 10 people.
Strep throat in adults has the same type of symptoms as it does for children. You have a painful itching and scratching in the throat, problems swallowing, swollen glands, and fever. If strep is untreated in adults, however, it can turn into rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever is an inflammatory disease that can cause skin rash, joint pain, and even damage to your heart valves. This occurs in about 3% of adults who get strep throat.
Strep throat is easily cured with antibiotics. Not only that, the odds that your strep will turn into rheumatic fever decreases by 98% if you get an antibiotic within 9 days of your symptoms starting.
Whooping cough is a respiratory tract infection that typically causes a severe cough that produces a large volume of thick phlegm. Whooping cough has no permanent aftereffects, but it can create cold-like symptoms and a severe cough that last for between 4 and 6 weeks. It tends to last longer in adults than in children.
If you get whooping cough, your doctor can diagnose you with cultures from your nose or throat, or with a blood test. Generally, it’s treated with antibiotics, which can make you feel better within a week or so.
Fifth disease is a common virus among children. It usually starts out with cold symptoms, followed by a rash on the cheeks. The rash usually spreads from there to the arms, legs, and trunk. It can be passed through sneezing, coughing, or touching. There’s not a vaccine for fifth disease.
This illness can be hard to avoid. For adults, fifth disease can cause long-term problems. About 80% of adults who get fifth disease get lingering arthritic symptoms that can stick around long after the virus is gone.
Unfortunately, there’s no cure and you usually have to simply wait for the virus to run its course over about a week or 10 days.
Chances are pretty good you’re all-too familiar with flu symptoms such as fever, runny nose, muscle aches, chills, and headaches.
The flu can cause a number of additional health problems in adults. It can lead to ear or sinus infections, dehydration, bacterial pneumonia, and more. It can cause conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma, and diabetes to get worse.
The flu vaccine isn’t perfect and doesn’t cover every strain. That said, during a typical season when the vaccine is close to the circulating virus strains, you’ll be protected about 70% to 90% of the time.
Avoiding childhood illnesses as an adult
The best way to keep from getting these illnesses is to follow the basic anti-germ routine. Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly. Use antibacterial gels when it makes sense to do so.
You should also consider getting some of the childhood illness vaccines. There are vaccines for whooping cough, the flu, measles, and chicken pox. The CDC recommends that adults get these vaccinations in most cases.
Talk to your health care professional about what you can do to protect yourself from these childhood illnesses that can cause major trouble as an adult.