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Creche syndrome refers to an ongoing cycle of colds, sniffles and more serious illnesses when young children are infected at a creche or pre-school where they come into contact with other children daily.

After repeated infections, their immune systems become compromised. Cape Town paediatrician Dr Hanneke Heyns says creche syndrome strikes from eight or nine months old, when some babies start daycare, and is prevalent among toddlers. “These children have constantly runny noses; it’s usually clear, sometimes with a mild fever attached and there may be coughing from a postnasal drip. It’s about the continuous virus load, one after another, that wears down their health,” she says.

Babies have no immunity at birth aside from their mother’s antibodies. Young children need contact with a certain amount of viruses so that if they catch a cold, their bodies can make antibodies to build resistance. But creche syndrome doesn’t build enough resistance because of the unrelenting cycle of illness.

Fight it with food

Many toddlers are fussy eaters and parents fall into the trap of feeding them something they know they’ll eat; often frozen and processed meals instead of nutritious foods. Their immune systems and gut health become impaired so they catch colds frequently and become constipated.

Creche syndrome checklist:
  • Ask questions when antibiotics are prescribed. Colds, flu and gastro are caused by a virus. Antibiotics don’t kill a virus; they only kill bacteria. Viruses can cause throat and ear infections, but bacterial infections play a bigger role.
  • Give your child an annual influenza vaccine, available from the age of six months onwards.
  • Parents can only relieve the symptoms of creche syndrome. If these danger signs are present, alert your doctor: persistent fever with a temperature above 38°C; fast breathing; a chesty cough and wheezing; green nasal mucus; diminished interest in eating and drinking; and vomiting.
  • Don’t dry out a runny nose. Use a salt-water nose spray to loosen the phlegm. Steam and elevated sleeping also help.