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Physical and mental health for young children
Physical and mental health for young children

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4.1 Preventable and communicable health conditions

Communicable illnesses include infections that are spread by micro-organisms, that is, viruses, bacteria or fungi. These are so small that they are not visible to the naked eye. Other communicable health conditions include those caused by parasites.

Infectious diseases

These were a significant threat to children’s health in the past and were frequently life-threatening. Many infectious diseases, such as polio, diphtheria and tetanus were common among children, causing them to have a long period of illness, and if they did survive the infection, they were often left with a legacy of disability.

The threats to health caused by infectious diseases has reduced during the last century, partly as a result of improvements in public health as well as because of increased levels of knowledge and understanding about the ways of reducing the spread of infection. The COVID-19 pandemic did a great deal to help understand how infections are spread and what we can all do to prevent this.

However, there are still many infections, such as the common cold, that are spread by viruses and are often regarded as ‘mild’ illnesses. Such infections are almost taken for granted illnesses and are regarded as inevitable in a setting where there are lots of people in close proximity. However, they can make children and adults feel unwell, albeit for a short period of time, and they can result in absences and sick leave. And importantly, so-called mild infections can have a disproportionately negative impact on children who are more vulnerable. For example, a common cold virus can provoke an attack in children with asthma.

A photograph of a child sneezing, with visible germs leaving their mouth
Figure 2 Child sneezing