Infectious Disease in Children

infectious disease in children portland oregon

An infectious disease is the top reason parents bring their children to see us.

An infectious disease is any illness that can be passed from person to person. It’s the top reason parents bring their children to see us; either to help them feel better when they are sick or to immunize them against disease when they are well.

There are three main types of infections: viral, bacterial, and fungal. Infectious diseases in children are more common during certain seasons or at certain ages. It can be confusing as a parent to know what kind of illness you’re dealing with and when you should bring your child in to be seen in clinic for possible treatment. Below is some information designed to help guide you in your decision.

Runny nose:

This is the most common symptom for a number of viral infections typically known as the “common cold.” Children are exposed to these viruses for the first time as babies and toddlers, and why it can seem as if they always have a runny nose, especially during their first year in school or daycare. Antibiotics do not help viruses get better faster.

But when is it not a virus? Sometimes, as our bodies are busy fighting a virus, we become susceptible to bacterial infections as well. An example of this is when an ear infection develops while a child is sick with a cold. Ear infections can be caused by bacteria and may get better faster by taking antibiotics. Therefore, please call to make an appointment any time your child has ear pain.

Vaccines that may help: Prevnar and Hib are two vaccines that protect against bacteria that are known to cause ear infections and other illnesses such as pneumonia and meningitis.


Infections, allergies, asthma, and swallowing a foreign object can all cause your child to cough. Please call us any time your child has any cough that is concerning to you.

Vaccines that may help: DTaP and TdaP are vaccines that protect against pertussis (“whooping cough”) in addition to tetanus and diphtheria.  Pertussis is a bacterial disease that requires treatment with antibiotics and can be very dangerous, especially for babies.

Vomiting and Diarrhea:

These symptoms are most commonly caused by viral infections and can spread quickly in daycares, schools, and households. Usually these illnesses start suddenly and can be accompanied by a low-grade fever. Vomiting usually lasts 24-48 hours and diarrhea can last 5-7 days.

But when is it not a virus? Occasionally bacteria or parasites can cause vomiting and diarrhea. If your child has blood in the stool, runs high fever, cannot keep down fluids, or if diarrhea persists longer than a week, call us! Also, if your child has only vomiting without diarrhea, this can be a symptom of another illness and the child should be seen in clinic.

Vaccines that may help: The Rotavirus vaccine can protect your child against one of the common viral causes of vomiting and diarrhea.

Sore throat:

Sore throats are often a part of the common cold and can be caused by viral infection. However, Streptococcus pyogenes (known as “Strep”) is a bacterium that can cause sore throat and needs to be treated with an antibiotic.  Luckily we can easily test for Strep with a throat swab, and so any time your child has a sore throat, make an appointment for him or her to be seen in clinic.


In addition to allergic reactions, rashes can be caused by viral, bacterial, or fungal infections and are very difficult to diagnose without seeing them. Call us to schedule an appointment any time your child has a rash. Rashes that may be emergencies are those that affect the mouth or eyes, those that cause swelling, or those that look purple or like bruises. If you’re not sure whether or not the rash needs to be seen emergently, call us for advice!

Vaccines that may help: MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) and Varicella (Chickenpox) vaccines help protect against viruses that cause rash along with other symptoms.


Fever alone cannot always tell us which type of disease we are dealing with. Some viruses will cause very high fever and some serious bacterial illnesses can strike with no fever at all. If you are ever worried about your child’s fever, call us for advice.

When it’s definitely an emergency: Any baby under 2 months old who has fever should be seen by a physician emergently. A fever in this age group is classified as anything of 100.8 degrees Fahrenheit or higher but can vary based on thermometer. If you are unsure whether or not your baby’s temperature can be classified as a fever, call us anytime!

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