Ensure your child eats a nutritious diet to boost his or her immune system and improve the effectiveness of vaccinations
Visit your child’s doctor to make sure the disease does not result in serious complications
Some of the most common illnesses of childhood cause skin eruptions and are known as exanthems. The childhood exanthems include rubeola (measles), rubella (German measles), chicken pox, erythema infectiosum (fifth disease), and roseola infantum, all of which are viral infections, as well as scarlet fever, a bacterial infection. All of these infections affect the respiratory system and are highly contagious.
Children with these illnesses usually recover fully even without treatment; however, all of these conditions carry the possibility of severe complications, such as pneumonia, heart and kidney damage, and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). Vaccinations and other changes in modern lifestyle have rendered several of these previously common illnesses virtually nonexistent in the developed world, though they are widespread and remain a major cause of childhood deaths in other parts of the world.
Children with a childhood disease may have symptoms including muscle aches, fatigue, fever, coughing, sneezing, sore throat, runny nose, nausea, and vomiting. There may also be an itchy skin rash with red bumps that may look like blisters.
|Balance your nutrition||
Feeding children a nutritious, balanced diet helps defend against childhood diseases, as malnutrition increases the likelihood of illness.
Children who suffer from malnutrition have weakened immune systems and are more likely to acquire exanthemous infections and to experience more severe illness from them. Malnutrition contributes to half of all childhood deaths from infectious diseases worldwide.1 Measles, a common childhood viral infection, is more likely to result in permanent blindness and is more likely to be fatal in children with poor nutritional status.2 , 3 Measles vaccinations are less effective in children who are malnourished.4 , 5
Our proprietary “Star-Rating” system was developed to help you easily understand the amount of scientific support behind each supplement in relation to a specific health condition. While there is no way to predict whether a vitamin, mineral, or herb will successfully treat or prevent associated health conditions, our unique ratings tell you how well these supplements are understood by the medical community, and whether studies have found them to be effective for other people.
For over a decade, our team has combed through thousands of research articles published in reputable journals. To help you make educated decisions, and to better understand controversial or confusing supplements, our medical experts have digested the science into these three easy-to-follow ratings. We hope this provides you with a helpful resource to make informed decisions towards your health and well-being.
3 Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2 Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1 Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.
High doses of vitamin A may be used to treat measles or chicken pox, but only under a doctor's supervision
Vitamin A plays a critical role in proper immune function, it has been used successfully to prevent and treat measles and to treat chicken pox.
Preliminary research shows that supplemental vitamin A improves the likelihood that the measles vaccine will provide protection.6 Vitamin A has, since the 1920s, been the subject of much research into the prevention and treatment of childhood exanthems, particularly measles.7 This nutrient has a critical role in proper immune function, and there is evidence that supplementation with vitamin A reduces the incidence and severity of, and deaths from, childhood measles.8 , 9 The World Health Organization (WHO) has therefore recommended that children with signs of deficiency receive supplementation with vitamin A. The recommended amounts are 100,000 IU for children younger than one year and 200,000 IU for children older than one year, immediately upon diagnosis, and repeated once the next day and once in one to four weeks.10 A controlled trial of African children given vitamin A supplementation according to the WHO’s recommendations found that severity of measles and its long-term consequences were reduced by 82% on day eight, 61% in week six, and 85% six months after the onset.11
Another controlled trial found that giving approximately 200,000 IU of vitamin A once during measles illness was not adequate to provide any benefit in African children whose vitamin A status was unknown.12 In a controlled prevention study, Indian children treated with 2,500 mcg (8,333 IU) of vitamin A weekly had fewer measles complications and less than half of the rate of death as compared with children receiving placebo;13 but in another study, Indian children receiving 200,000 IU of vitamin A every six months did not have a different rate of total infectious illness nor rate of death as compared with children receiving placebo.14
An analysis of 20 controlled trials concluded that vitamin A supplementation reduced deaths from measles respiratory infection by 70%.15 While vitamin A deficiency is widespread in developing countries, it has also been reported in the United States and has been linked with more severe cases of measles.16 The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended supplementation with vitamin A for children between the ages of six months and two years who are hospitalized with measles and its complications. The recommended amount is a single administration of 100,000 IU for children aged 6 to 12 months and 200,000 IU for children older than 1 year, followed by a second administration 24 hours later and a third after four weeks in children who are likely to have vitamin A deficiency.17
One trial showed that low levels of vitamin A are more prevalent in children with measles than in similar children without measles, with levels rising back to normal several days after the onset of the infection. This observation led the authors of the study to conclude that vitamin A deficiency is a consequence of infection with the measles virus and to recommend supplementation with vitamin A during measles infection even when prior deficiency is not suspected.18 Vitamin A stores have also been shown to be depleted during chicken pox infection,19 and some preliminary data supports its use in treatment of chicken pox. In a controlled trial, in which children without vitamin A deficiency were given either 200,000 IU of vitamin A or placebo one time during chicken pox, the children given vitamin A had shorter duration of illness and fewer severe complications. The researchers then treated the patients’ siblings with vitamin A before chicken pox became evident, and they had an even shorter length of illness.20
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Quercetin is a flavonoid that has shown particularly strong antiviral properties in the test tube.
Flavonoids are a group of compounds found in some plant foods and medicinal herbs. An antiviral action of some flavonoids has been observed in a number of test tube experiments.21 , 22 , 23 , 24 , 25 Quercetin, one of the flavonoids, has shown particularly strong antiviral properties in the test tube;26 , 27 , 28 however, one study did not find quercetin to be of benefit to mice with a viral infection.29 It is not known whether flavonoids can be absorbed in amounts sufficient to exert an antiviral effect in humans, and therefore their possible role in the treatment of childhood exanthems remains unknown.
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Supplementing with selenium, an antioxidant mineral, supports a healthy immune system and has been found to prevent viral infections.
Selenium is a mineral known to have antioxidant properties and to be involved in healthy immune system activity. Recent animal and human research suggests that selenium deficiency increases the risk of viral infection and that supplementation prevents viral infection.30 , 31 , 32 , 33 , 34 In a controlled trial, children with a specific viral infection (respiratory syncytial virus) who received a single supplement of 1 mg (1,000 mcg) of sodium selenite (a form of selenium) recovered more quickly than children who did not receive selenium.35 While it is possible that childhood exanthemous viral infections might similarly be more severe in selenium-deficient children and helped through supplementation, none of the current research involves these specific viruses.
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Vitamin C enhances the immune system and may protect against viral infections, including measles and chicken pox.
Vitamin C has been demonstrated in test tube, animal, and human studies to have immune-enhancing and direct antiviral properties.36 Preliminary observations made on the effect of vitamin C on viral infections have involved both measles and chicken pox.37 An active immune system uses vitamin C rapidly, and blood levels fall in children with bacterial or viral infections.38 Reduced immune cell activity has been observed in people with measles, but in one preliminary study, supplementation with 250 mg daily of vitamin C in children 18 months to 3 years old had no impact on the course of the illness.39 The authors of this study admit that this amount of vitamin C may have been too low to bring about an observable increase in immune cell activity and thus an increase in speed of recovery.
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Healthy immune function requires adequate amounts of vitamin E. Animal studies have shown that vitamin E increases immune cell activity and reduces virus activity.
Healthy immune function also requires adequate amounts of vitamin E. Vitamin E deficiency is associated with increased severity of viral infections in mice.40 , 41 , 42 Supplementation with vitamin E during viral infections has been shown to increase immune cell activity43 and reduce virus activity44 in mice. Research into the effects of vitamin E supplementation on childhood exanthems has not been done.
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Zinc is a mineral antioxidant nutrient that the immune system requires. Supplementing with it increases immune activity in people with certain illnesses.
Zinc is another mineral antioxidant nutrient that the immune system requires. Zinc deficiency results in lowered immune defenses, and zinc supplementation increases immune activity in people with certain illnesses.45 As with vitamin A, zinc levels have been observed to fall during the early stages of measles infection and to return to normal several days later.46 There is evidence that zinc supplements are helpful in specific viral infections,47 , 48 , 49 but there are no data on the effect of zinc on childhood exanthemous infections.
1. Bohler E, Wathne KO. Malnutrition and infections in children--a destructive interplay with global dimensions. Tidsskr Nor Laegeforen 2000;120:1740–5 [in Norwegian].
2. Bhaskaram P. Measles & malnutrition. Indian J Med Res 1995;102:195–9.
3. Tomkins A. Malnutrition, morbidity and mortality in children and their mothers. Proc Nutr Soc 2000;59:135–46.
4. Adeiga AA, Akinosho RO, Onyewuche J. Evaluation of immune response in infants with different nutritional status: vaccinated against tuberculosis, measles and poliomyelitis. J Trop Pediatr 1994;40:345–50.
5. Greenwood BM, Bradley-Moore AM, Bradley AK, et al. The immune response to vaccination in undernourished and well-nourished Nigerian children. Ann Trop Med Parasitol 1986;80:537–44.
6. Benn CS, Aaby P, Bale C, et al. Randomised trial of effect of vitamin A supplementation on antibody response to measles vaccine in Guinea-Bissau, west Africa. Lancet 1997;350:101–5.
7. Semba RD. Vitamin A as “anti-infective” therapy, 1920–1940. J Nutr 1999;129:783–91 [review].
8. Molina EL, Patel JA. A to Z: vitamin A and zinc, the miracle duo. Indian J Pediatr 1996;63:427–31 [review].
9. Malvy D. Micronutrients and tropical viral infections: one aspect of pathogenic complexity in tropical medicine. Med Trop (Mars) 1999;59:442–8 [review; in French].
10. World Health Organization. Expanded programme on immunization: programme for the prevention of blindness nutrition. Joint WHO/UNICEF statement. Vitamin A for measles. Wkly Epidemiol Rec 1987;62:133–4.
11. Coutsoudis A, Broughton M, Coovadia HM. Vitamin A supplementation reduces measles morbidity in young African children: a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial. Am J Clin Nutr 1991;54:890–5.
12. Rosales FJ, Kjolhede C. A single 210-mumol oral dose of retinol does not enhance the immune response in children with measles. J Nutr 1994;124:1604–14.
13. Rahmathullah L. Effect of receiving a weekly dose of vitamin A equivalent to the recommended dietary allowances among pre school children on mortality in south India. Indian J Pediatr 1991;58:837–47.
14. Vijayaraghavan K, Rashmiah G, Suryaprakasam B, et al. Effect of massive dose of vitamin A on morbidity and mortality in Indian children. Lancet 1990;336:1342–53.
15. Glasziou PP, Mackerras DE. Vitamin A supplementation in infectious diseases: a meta-analysis. BMJ 1993;306:366–70 [review].
16. Frieden TR, Sowell AL, Henning JK, et al. Vitamin A levels and severity of measles: New York City. Am J Dis Child 1992;146:182–6.
17. Committee on Infectious Diseases, American Academy of Pediatrics. Vitamin A treatment of Measles. Pediatrics 1993;91:1014–5.
18. Coutsoudis A, Coovadia HM, Broughton M, et al. Micronutrient utilisation during measles treated with vitamin A or placebo. Int J Vitam Nutr Res 1991;61:199–204.
19. Campos FA, Flores H, Underwood BA. Effect of an infection on vitamin A status of children as measured by the relative dose response. Am J Clin Nutr 1987;46:91–4.
20. Ozsoylu S, Cemeroglu AP, Gunay M. Vitamin A for varicella. J Pediatr 1994;125:1017–8 [letter].
21. Vrijsen R, Everaert L, Boeye A. Antiviral activity of flavones and potentiation by ascorbate. J Gen Virol 1988;69:1749–51.
22. Debiaggi M, Tateo F, Pagani L, et al. Effects of propolis flavonoids on virus infectivity and replication. Microbiologica 1990;13:207–13.
23. Fesen MR, Kohn KW, Leteurtre F, Pommier Y. Inhibitors of human immunodeficiency virus integrase. Proc Natl Acad Sci 1993;90:2399–403.
24. Amoros M, Simoes CM, Girre L, et al. Synergistic effect of flavones and flavonols against herpes simplex virus type 1 in cell culture. Comparison with the antiviral activity of propolis. J Nat Prod 1992;55:1732–40.
25. Spedding G, Ratty A, Middleton E Jr. Inhibition of reverse transcriptases by flavonoids. Antiviral Res 1989;12:99–110.
26. Kaul TN, Middleton E Jr, Ogra PL. Antiviral effect of flavonoids on human viruses. J Med Virol 1985;15:71–9.
27. Mucsi I, Pragai BM. Inhibition of virus multiplication and alteration of cyclic AMP level in cell cultures by flavonoids. Experientia 1985;41:930–1.
28. Ohnishi E, Bannai H. Quercetin potentiates TNF-induced antiviral activity. Antiviral Res 1993;22:327–31.
29. Esanu V, Prahoveanu E, Crisan I, Cioca A. The effect of an aqueous propolis extract, of rutin and of a rutin-quercetin mixture on experimental influenza virus infection in mice. Virologie 1981;32:213–5.
30. Levander OA, Beck MA. Selenium and viral virulence. Br Med Bull 1999;55:528–33.
31. Beck MA, Levander OA. Host nutritional status and its effect on a viral pathogen. J Infect Dis 2000;182:S93–S96 [review].
32. Beck MA. Nutritionally induced oxidative stress: effect on viral disease. Am J Clin Nutr 2000;71:1676S–81S [review].
33. Beck MA. Selenium and host defence towards viruses. Proc Nutr Soc 1999;58:707–11 [review].
34. Beck MA, Levander OA. Dietary oxidative stress and the potentiation of viral infection. Annu Rev Nutr 1998;18:93–116 [review].
35. Liu X, Yin S, Li G. Effects of selenium supplement on acute lower respiratory tract infection caused by respiratory syncytial virus. Chung Hua Yu Fang I Hsueh Tsa Chih 1997;31:358–61 [in Chinese].
36. Jariwalla RJ, Harakeh S. Antiviral and immunomodulatory activities of ascorbic acid. Subcell Biochem 1996;25:213–31 [review].
37. Stone I. The Healing Factor: Vitamin C Against Disease. New York: Perigee Books, 1972, 75.
38. Tanzer F, Ozalp I. Leucocyte ascorbic acid concentration and plasma ascorbic acid levels in children with various infections. Mater Med Pol 1993;25:5–8.
39. Joffe MI, Sukha NR, Rabson AR. Lymphocyte subsets in measles. Depressed helper/inducer subpopulation reversed by in vitro treatment with levamisole and ascorbic acid. J Clin Invest 1983;72:971–80.
40. Beck MA, Levander OA. Host nutritional status and its effect on a viral pathogen. J Infect Dis 2000;182:S93–S96 [review].
41. Beck MA. Nutritionally induced oxidative stress: effect on viral disease. Am J Clin Nutr 2000;71:1676S–81S [review].
42. Beck MA, Levander OA. Dietary oxidative stress and the potentiation of viral infection. Annu Rev Nutr 1998;18:93–116.
43. Han SN, Wu D, Ha WK, et al. Vitamin E supplementation increases T helper 1 cytokine production in old mice infected with influenza virus. Immunology 2000;100:487–93.
44. Hayek MG, Taylor SF, Bender BS, et al. Vitamin E supplementation decreases lung virus titers in mice infected with influenza. J Infect Dis 1997;176:273–6.
45. Fraker PJ, King LE, Laakko T, Vollmer TL. The dynamic link between the integrity of the immune system and zinc status. J Nutr 2000;130:1399S-406S [review].
46. Coutsoudis A, Coovadia HM, Broughton M, et al. Micronutrient utilisation during measles treated with vitamin A or placebo. Int J Vitam Nutr Res 1991;61:199–204.
47. Mocchegiani E, Muzzioli M. Therapeutic application of zinc in human immunodeficiency virus against opportunistic infections. J Nutr 2000;130:1424S–31S.
48. Novick SG, Godfrey JC, Pollack RL, Wilder HR. Zinc-induced suppression of inflammation in the respiratory tract, caused by infection with human rhinovirus and other irritants. Med Hypotheses 1997;49:347–57 [review].
49. Kumel G, Schrader S, Zentgraf H, Brendel M. Therapy of banal HSV lesions: molecular mechanisms of the antiviral activity of zinc sulfate. Hautarzt 1991;42:439–45 [review; in German].
Last Review: 05-01-2013
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