Kids are walking petri dishes, just waiting to infect their parents. Which means that you will get sick—a lot. But as much as you feel like you want to die, disease doesn’t excuse you from parenting (spoiler: nothing does!). So prepare your mind and body with a little prescriptive knowledge from a guy who sees cases like yours every day.
“The most common question I get is, ‘can I get this?’,” Dr. Matthew Murray at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego told Fatherly. Murray attends to the sniffling, sneezing, aching, coughing, stuffy-head, and fevers of more than 90,000 kids a year (including his own, at home). “Most of these [diseases] are super contagious, but the reason that parents don’t get them is because they’ve formed antibodies to fight them off.” But doesn’t mean you’ll be so lucky. So here’s a list of some of the most uncomfortable diseases your children may encounter, and what exactly you can expect when these parasites, viruses, and bacteria infect your adult body.
- Will You Get It? Did your kid start a new daycare? Have they gone back to school after a break? Have they projectile vomited into your mouth? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then yes.
- How Sick Will You Be? Gastroenteritis isn’t usually as severe in adults as it is in children. “Some people have a little nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea to deal with,” says Murray.
- Care Instructions: Switch to clear liquids. “It’s lighter and going to pass through your system faster,” Murray says. Try to drink smaller amounts more frequently. Ginger ale might help, too.
- Will You Get It? Probably not—because they’re hard to miss in your kids and, when you see them, you flee. “Parents usually see it, freak out and run into the emergency department,” Murray says
- How Sick Will You Be? “They’re really disgusting,” Murray says, and this is a man who is elbow deep in bodily fluids for a living. The “worms” are tiny parasites that are thinner than a grain of rice and twice as long. The females crawl out of your butt, lay eggs, then those eggs enter the intestinal tract. Suffice to say you’ll be pretty darn sick, although the most common symptom is an itchy butt.
- Care Instructions: Anti-worm medicine can get rid of the parasites. The psychological trauma is another story.
- Will You Get It?: Probably not. “Adults don’t end up too severely ill unless you have something else going on,” Murray says. But while it’s not a big deal for parents, in the U.S., 800,000 infants will require outpatient care for RSV in the first year of life.
- How Sick Will You Be?: Not very, and that’s because your adult-sized trachea is better equipped to handle inflammation. When adults get RSV, it looks like a sore throat or a cough. You might have some scratchiness and redness but, in a child, that mucus can cause breathing issues.
- Care Instructions: Ricola for you. Pediatrician for the kids.
Hand, Foot, And Mouth Disease
- Will You Get It? You’re more likely to get the coxsackievirus that causes hand, foot, and mouth disease if you weren’t exposed to it while you were growing up. “It can be carried in any bodily fluid and is easily passed along,” says Dr. Murray, who says it’s the reason your daycare is so susceptible. “There’s nothing dirtier than changing a diaper, and the fecal-oral route is extremely common.”
- How Sick Will You Be? Have you ever seen The Fly? “Coxsackie is a respiratory virus, so you’ll have typical cold symptoms first. Then you get an uncomfortable feeling in your hands and feet. And it doesn’t have to start with a rash,” he says. Eventually, you’ll get painful blisters on your palms, soles, and mouth. This makes walking hurt, eating difficult, and handball downright impossible.
- Care Instructions: The blisters can last a week or longer. Your only option is to wait it out.
- Will You Get It? Streptococcus is a pretty common bacteria in everyone, so most likely.
- How Sick Will You Be? Expect a fever, sore throat, big lymph nodes under your jaw, and pus on your tonsils, you have strep throat. If you’re feeling decent and have a cough, it’s not Strep.
- Care Instructions: You can usually get a prescription for antibiotics. Popsicles are mandatory.
- Will You Get It? Strep bacteria on the skin is as nasty as strep in the throat. Impetigo causes disgusting yellow lesions on your kid, and disgusting, slightly different, lesions on you. “We see lots of topical skin infections in adults,” says Dr. Murray. “But we tend to see more cellulitis.”
- How Sick Will You Be? How do you feel about scabs on your face that are “honey crusted”? Stopping impetigo is mostly about hygiene. Wash hands. Wash clothes. Wash those bed sheets.
- Care Instructions: Topical antibiotics usually do the trick. If not, oral or IV antibiotics.
- Will You Get It?: Yes. “It’s awful. It’s really, really contagious. Probably 95 percent of it is viral, and it may start with a runny nose, cough, low-grade fever. If you’re in the same house, you’re at high risk of getting it,” Murray says.
- How Sick Will You Be?: Your eyes will be a little red and itchy. It’s unpleasant, but that’s it.
- Care Instructions: “If you have thick drainage from your eyes, and they’re glued together when you wake up, you may want some topical antibiotics,” Murray says. Otherwise, wait it out.
Whooping Cough, Scarlet Fever, and Roseola
- Will you get it? Slim chance, slimmer chance, and no chance, respectively. Scarlet fever and Roseola are all but eradicated in the U.S. and, although whooping cough is making a comeback in children under 10 (which is why DTaP vaccines are mandatory for school-aged kids), Dr. Murray can’t recall the last time he treated an adult for it. If you’re concerned, get a booster shot.
- How Sick Will You Be? Untreated strep throat could turn into a grown-up version of scarlet fever, complete with red rash and high fever. The other two are seldom, if ever, seen in adults.
- Care Instructions: If you see signs of any of these diseases in your kids, take them straight to the doctor. If you notice symptoms in yourself, it’s likely some other disease. Get it checked out.