Recognising serious symptoms in children

Child Protection Week takes place from 29 May to 5 June under the theme “let’s protect children to move South Africa forward”. The Clinix Health Group says that being able to recognise when a child is severely ill is paramount to protecting the child’s right to professional medical treatment and parents or caregivers have a duty to see that that care is administered.

Group Nursing Service Manager, Bernadette Campbell, says trying to determine whether to treat the child at home or take them to a hospital can be a tough judgment call for parents, but they should always act on their gut feeling.

“Some parents worry that their instinct to rush to the emergency room will be questioned by the doctor on duty if there’s nothing seriously wrong with their child. But if you feel you need emergency intervention, then take the child the hospital. Imagine if there is something seriously wrong and you didn’t.”

So which scenarios should raise alarm bells?

Campbell says parents need to phone an ambulance or get to a hospital immediately if the child:

  • Has difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Has had a change in mental status, such as suddenly becoming unusually sleepy or difficult to wake, disoriented, or confused
  • Has a debilitating headache or a headache combined with fever, vomiting, confusion, rash or stiff neck
  • Has a cut in the skin that is bleeding and won’t stop
  • Has a rapid heartbeat that doesn’t slow down
  • Has had more than minor head trauma
  • Accidentally ingests a poisonous substance or too much medication
  • Has had a persistent high fever for four or more days in a row


“This does by no means exhaust the list but will give parents a good idea of what to be concerned about. Remember always keep emergency numbers on hand as well. We recommend the following:


  • POISON INFORMATION HELPLINE (24h service) 0861-555-777
  • Child protection Services 011 355 7678 /7977/ 7878
  • Ambulance 011 375 5911
  • Police 10111