Going Viral: 5 Horrifying and Common Childhood Illnesses that Will Haunt your Dreams


Remember when you first brought baby home from the hospital? He was so tiny, so helpless, so very vulnerable to all the ills of this world. You made guests wash their hands before they got nursery clearance and you hosed down the shopping cart with Purell every damn time you went to the store. In the beginning, we believe as parents that these hysterical measures are protecting our children from the world, but in time, it becomes clear that it is more often the world that needs protecting from our children.

Whether it’s their constant rebellion against the norms of personal hygiene or their unquenchable desire to lick mysterious surfaces, objects, and persons, one thing is for sure: kids get sick a lot. And, consequently, so do parents. If you haven’t had time to acquaint yourself with the array of exotic, horrifying types of sick that will dominate your world and immune system for the next several years, here’s a brief introduction to some of the classics—from someone who is legally obligated to inform you that she is no way a medical professional:

Norovirus aka “Both Ends”

Norovirus is a highly contagious viral infection that typically infects people from November-April. It can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and all out crises of faith.

In a classic fecal-oral “meet cute,” a person contracts Norovirus by accidently ingesting the feces or vomit of a contaminated individual. Since most childrens’ idea of hand washing is wearing the hand towel as a cape and touching every surface except the faucet, transmission is easier than it sounds. You’re probably ingesting feces right now.

In my experience, Norovirus is usually NBD for a bright, shiny kid immune system. A few swift night barfs, loose stools, and maybe a weird albino post-viral turd to wrap it all up. But grown ups (i.e. old, rusty humans) may not fare so well and could be stuck pooping out neon sports drinks and asking God, “Why?!!” for 48 hours or more.

For you and your little, hydration and rest are some of the best medicines. Hit the Pedialyte when ready (in small quantities at first) and BOLO for signs of dehydration.

For more information from actual doctors:

Hand, Foot, & Mouth Disease

Shine up your lucky amulet and put a call into the priest. Coxsackie virus (HMFD) is coming to town, and it’s here to party!

HMFD starts off innocuously enough with aches, pains, fever, and a sore throat. But before long, your tot will be host to a festival of painful open sores and blisters. The lesions can vary slightly in location and appearance, but ulcers in and around the mouth, hands, and—you guessed it—soles of the feet are common. At the end of the rash, as sort of showy coup de grâce, finger and toenails may fall off. Talk about going out in a blaze of glory.

HMFD is highly contagious and can be very common in childcare settings. They say transmission to grown ups is rare, but if you do find yourself winning that lottery (I did), all anecdotal signs point to it being the absolute worst ten-ish days of your adult life.

Kiddos can be kept comfortable with ibuprofen or Tylenol for fever and plenty cool, comforting foods (ahem, ice cream) for sore throats and mouths. Adults might need something stronger than popsicles and Daniel Tiger.

Here’s what Mayo Clinic says:

Pink Eye

Bad verbs. Really bad verbs here. “Weeping,” “oozing,” “swelling,” “itching”…. all of the icky things at once.
Pink eye is super common and probably the number three reason (behind sunlight and hangovers) that people wear sunglasses. You can get it from allergies, a virus, or a bacterial infection. Lovely. The latter two are contagious from eye to eye and from person to person.

On a good day, kid eyeballs are gross. But with a case of conjunctivitis? Suffice it to say your lil’ muffin might want to hit the pageant circuit another week. (But you still think she’s cute so it’s fine!) Those crusty little windows to her soul will require lots of warm compress time (don’t ever reuse), sympathy, and a visit to the doctor to rule out bacterial infection or other illnesses. Grown ups, you’ll probably get it too, so keep those shades on standby—and only take them off if you want to scare the living heck out of someone.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology explains it slightly better than I do:


For a virus that sounds like something you die from on the Oregon Trail, Roseola actually isn’t so terrible. It is, however, quite nerve-wracking. Here’s how it might play out:

Bubba is feeling a bit crummy. His nose is running, and he won’t eat his applesauce. (“Why won’t he eat his applesauce?!” Mom wonders…) Then, he comes down with a very high fever (often above 103 degrees), and it just won’t quit. It lasts for days. He isn’t super-phased by his volcanic body temp, but Mom is getting keyed up.

Mom wants to go to the hospital, but Dad is all,” just let him rest!” They get into a fight. Dad sleeps on the couch, and Mom stays up all night staring at the monitor and reading about febrile convulsions.

Bubba’s temperature finally drops. He develops a flat or slightly raised rash on his trunk. A few days later, the rash is gone. Mom is furious that Dad was acting like she was paranoid. She stays up all night reading about paranoia.

Roseola typically affects small children (ages 6 months-2 years). And though it is contagious (obvi), repeat cases are rare. So unless you have twins (like me), you’ll probably only have to white knuckle your way through this bag of fun once.

For more (way better) information:


Worms. It’s a rough suffix. It implies a whole lot of things: microbes, poor hygiene, rooting around your child’s anus by the light of the moon. In this case, unfortunately, the implications are pretty accurate.

Pinworms look like teensy weensy white strings about the size of a grain of rice. The telltale signs of infection are severe anal itching (normally occurring at nighttime when females lay their eggs) and abdominal pain.

I know what you’re thinking. My dog doesn’t have worms. There’s no way my kid will get them, right?! The dog doesn’t suck his thumb directly after he wipes his bottom. Chew on that for a minute.

The good news (really the only good news here) is that pinworms are easy to diagnose and easy to treat. All you have to do? Grab your flashlight and take a peek at junior’s bottom a couple of hours after bedtime. If the worms are there, you’ll see them. The next step is grabbing an over the counter medication from the pharmacist and dosing up. (Many doctors recommend that everybody in the house take two doses—one right away and another two weeks afterward.)

Look! This one’s got pictures:

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Shannon was a proud Canadian firmly opposed getting married, having children, and moving to the United States. That was 10 years ago. She currently resides in Nashville with her husband, 4 year old son, and 1 year old boy/girl twins. She is a published songwriter and co-author of “Awkward Moments with Men”, a book of humour essays, and is currently working as a freelance writer and researcher. When she isn’t drowning in her adorable children, she loves cooking, tolerates exercise, and hates dancing. She is fighting a Swedish Fish addiction that has left her dentist shocked and deeply saddened.


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