Hesperian Health Guides

7 signs of illness in children

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HealthWiki > Helping Children Live with HIV > Chapter 12: Common health problems > 7 signs of illness in children

Parents and caregivers can usually tell when their children are not well. Because children with HIV can become very ill very quickly, pay close attention to signs of illness.

By understanding what 7 main signs of illness mean, you may be able to find the cause of the problem and act on it.

  1. Diarrhea, dehydration, and vomiting
  2. Difficulty breathing and cough
  3. Fever and seizures
  4. Sore throat, mouth sores, and thrush
  5. Skin problems
  6. Pain, discomfort, and lack of energy
  7. Low weight, slow growth, and malnutrition
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If a child with HIV has any of these problems, she needs your care and attention. If any one problem is severe, or if she has 2 or 3 problems, she needs medical help. The “Quick reference for health problems” on the next two pages can tell you where to find out more.

If it is not difficult you to go to a clinic or hospital, it may be best to take a child with HIV for medical help whenever he is ill. Talk to the health workers about the signs of illness you see in your child, when to come in, and when to manage care at home.

Until you can get to a clinic or hospital, or even if you cannot go at all, there are still things you can do to help your child. This chapter can help you treat some illnesses, and so can your family, friends, and neighbors. Reach out for support, particularly to other people who have experience with children who have HIV.

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Quick reference for health problems

Diarrhea, dehydration, and vomiting

Diarrhea is more serious when a child has other signs.

Diarrhea with dehydration
  • Little or no urine, or very dark urine
  • Dry mouth or thirst
  • A sunken soft spot on baby’s head
  • Sunken and tearless eyes
  • Sudden weight loss
Diarrhea, dehydration, and vomiting.
Diarrhea with blood or pus in stool, but no fever
  • No fever
  • Parts of diarrhea look red, black or very dark brown (might be blood)
  • Parts of diarrhea look yellow (might be pus)
Diarrhea with blood or pus in stool, with fever
  • Fever
  • Stools are more watery
  • Parts of diarrhea look red, black, or very dark brown (blood) or yellow (pus)
Shigella and other bacterial infections.
Diarrhea is yellow and bubbly
  • No fever
  • Stools are very smelly
  • Swollen belly and discomfort
Diarrhea with vomiting
  • Frequent vomiting
  • Forceful vomiting
Virus or unclean water.
Diarrhea with vomiting and fever
  • Frequent vomiting
  • High fever
Virus or cholera.
Boiling water makes it safe to drink and prevents diarrhea.
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Difficulty breathing and cough

Breathing problems are more serious when the child also has other signs:

Breathing problems and fever
  • May cough up yellow or green mucus
  • May not want to eat
Pneumonia, or colds and flu.
Cough with fever for more than 1 week
  • A baby does not gain weight
  • An older child loses weight
  • Others in the house have TB,serious coughs, or illness
Tuberculosis (TB).

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Fever and seizures

A high fever is a more serious when the child also has other signs.

High fever with seizures or convulsions
  • Sudden, brief periods of unconsciousness
  • Sometimes jerking body movements
Seizures and convulsions.
High fever with rash Dengue or measles .
High fever with fast breathing, difficulty breathing, or cough
  • Moving less than usual
  • Bulging soft spot (fontanelle) on top of baby's head
HIV Ch12 Page 212-3.png Pneumonia, or bacterial infection or sepsis, or meningitis.
High fever with chills or sweats
  • Pain: headache, belly ache, or sore muscles, sometimes pain when touched
  • Rash, vomiting, or diarrhea
Malaria, or dengue.
High fever with bad headache, stiff neck
  • Sometimes vomiting, seizures, or pain when touched
  • Weakness or sleepiness
  • Loss of consciousness
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This page was updated:27 Nov 2019