A fevered and listless child with ear pain, a bad cough or snot running out of their nose is a well-known phenomenon in most families with children. But even when one sick day leads to another, and collecting prescriptions at the pharmacy becomes a routine, parents need not to worry that their children´s brain are affected or they are losing the ability to do well in school.
This is shown by a register-based study from Aarhus University covering 598,553 Danish children that has been published in the scientific journal The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal.
One of the researchers behind the study, medical doctor and PhD student Ole Köhler-Forsberg from the Department of Clinical Medicine at Aarhus University, explains that over time there has - quite rightly - been an awareness of how children develop and perform intellectually following serious illnesses and hospitalisations.
"Other studies have demonstrated that serious illnesses, for example severe infections such as measles, rubella or meningitis, which we vaccinate against, affect the brain and thereby the child's ability to learn. From this we know that illnesses and in particular infections to some degree have an influence on our brains. In this study, we decided to look at how children perform following the less severe infections that many of them frequently experience during their childhood. After all, this is the largest group of children," says Ole Köhler-Forsberg.
The study covers 598,553 Danes who were born between 1987 and 1997 and is based on the Danish registers containing data on health, treatment and hospital admissions, dispensing of prescriptions and the 9th grade examination, which was in this case the researchers' benchmark. At the same time, the results are adjusted for factors such as birth weight, mental or chronic illness in the child, and also the level of education and mental health of the parents.
"This provides a more precise and valid result," says Ole Köhler-Forsberg on the study, which is the largest of its kind in the world thus far.
The findings underline that it has no significance for the child's ability to complete primary and lower secondary school whether five, ten or even fifteen prescriptions have been picked up at the pharmacy during childhood.
"On the other hand, we found that children who had been admitted to hospital as a result of severe infections had a lower chance of completing 9th grade. The decisive factor is therefore the severity of the disease, but not necessarily the number of sick days," says Ole Köhler-Forsberg.
"The study ought to reassure those parents who find that their young children are often sick. Our findings indicate that as long as we 'only' have a case of less severe infections, and even though the child is definitely ill and requires medicine, the child's cognitive development is not at risk," says Ole Köhler-Forsberg.
However, the study confirms that there is an association between severe infections and cognitive skills in the form of a reduced chance of completing 9th grade; but due to the register-based design of the study, this finding may also be explained by other factors. Such severe infections are, however, less frequent in Denmark, among other things as a result of the Danish vaccination programme.