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15 of the Most Common Childhood Illnesses

Children get illnesses. It's just what they do in all seasons of every year, so adults must keep a watchful eye. Knowledge of the most common childhood illnesses is an indispensable tool to protect a child. When a person knows the illness inside and out, it can be ready tips for helping children recover faster. Knowing the common symptoms, and when a child needs to see a doctor, will help make this cold and flu season a manageable one.

Why are children always so susceptible to illness? The answer is, a young child's immune system hasn't been exposed to many infections, so he's far more prone to illnesses than older children and adults, who have built up immunity to many germs. It doesn't help that toddlers and preschoolers tend to touch everything, put their hands in their mouth, and play close to each other.

The quest to keep a child healthy is in many ways a constant battle. Still, the more knowledgeable you are, the better prepared you'll be to identify what's ailing a child and to help her/him feel better, as quickly as possible.

In this article, we will be offering information on some of the most prevalent illnesses among young children and how to handle their effects on people.

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14 Chicken Pox

Chickenpox used to be a common childhood illness in the United States, especially in children under age 12. It’s much rarer now, the varicella vaccine that's given when children are between 12 and 15 months old, followed by a booster shot at 4-6 years of age. Caused by the varicella-zoster virus (V.Z.V), chickenpox is very contagious. Children who do get it might have an itchy rash of spots all over the body and flu-like symptoms. An infected child should stay home and rest until the rash is gone.

Getting the vaccine, which greatly reduces their chances of getting chicken pox, can protect children. And vaccinated children who do get chickenpox tend to have milder cases and quicker recoveries compared with those who get it and weren't immunized.

Chickenpox often starts with a fever, headache, sore throat, or stomach ache. These symptoms may last for a few days, with the fever in the 101°-102°F (38.3°-38.8°C) range. Chickenpox causes a red, itchy skin rash that usually appears first on the abdomen or back and face, and then spreads to almost everywhere else on the body, including the scalp, mouth, arms, legs, and genitals.

An antiviral medicine might be prescribed for people with chickenpox who are at risk for complications. The decision to use this will depend on a child's age and health, the extent of the infection, and the timing of the treatment. A doctor can tell a person if the medicine is right for a child. If a person takes a child to the doctor, let the office know in advance that her/his child might have chickenpox. It's important to try to avoid exposing other children in the office for some of them; a chickenpox infection could cause severe complications.

13 Roseola

Roseola is a generally mild infection that usually affects children by age 2. It occasionally afflicts adults. Roseola is so common that most children have been infected with the disease by the time they enter kindergarten. Two common strains of the herpes virus cause Roseola. The illness typically causes days of fever, accompanied by a rash. Some children develop only a very mild case of Roseola and never show any clear indication of illness, while others experience the full range of signs and symptoms. Roseola typically isn't serious. Rarely, a very high fever can result in complications. Treatment of Roseola includes bed rest, fluids, and medications to reduce fever.

If a child is exposed to someone with Roseola and becomes infected with the virus, it generally takes up to two weeks for signs and symptoms of infection to appear. Sometimes, no symptoms appear at all. It's possible to become infected with Roseola but have signs and symptoms too mild to be readily noticeable. Roseola symptoms may include fever and rash. Roseola typically starts with a sudden, high fever, which is often greater than 103 F (39.4 C). Some children may also have a slightly sore throat, runny nose or a cough along with or preceding the fever. A child may also develop swollen lymph nodes in her/his neck along with the fever.

The fever lasts three to five days. Once the fever breaks, a rash typically appears, however not always. The rash consists of many small pink spots or patches. These spots are generally flat, but some may be raised. There may be a white ring around some of the spots. The rash usually starts on the chest, back, and abdomen and then spreads to the neck and arms. It may or may not reach the legs and face. The rash, which isn't itchy or uncomfortable, can last from several hours to several days before subsiding. Other signs and symptoms include irritability in infants and children. In people of all ages, symptoms such as mild diarrhea, a decreased appetite, and swollen eyelids may occur.

A child could have a convulsion (seizure) if her/his fever becomes high or spikes quickly. In most cases, by the time notice a child's high temperature, the threat of a possible seizure has already passed. If a child does have an unexplained seizure, seek medical care immediately. If a person’s immune system is compromised and they come in contact with someone who has Roseola, contact a doctor. may need monitoring for a possible infection that, for the immunecompromised, could be more severe than it is for a child.

12 The Flu

In the United States, flu season runs from October to May, with most cases happening between late December and early March. Influenza, commonly known as "the flu," is a highly contagious viral infection of the respiratory tract. It affects all age groups, though children tend to get it more often than adults. The flu is often confused with the common cold, but flu symptoms usually are more severe than the typical sneezing and stuffiness of a cold.

Symptoms, which usually begin about two days after exposure to the virus, can include fever, chills, headache, and muscle ache. Among other symptoms are dizziness, loss of appetite, tiredness, and cough. The person afflicted with a sore throat, runny nose, nausea or vomiting and weakness. In more severe cases there may be ear pain and diarrhea.

After five days, fever and other symptoms have usually disappeared, but a cough and weakness may continue. All symptoms are usually gone within a week or two. However, it's important to treat the flu seriously because it can lead to pneumonia and other life-threatening complications, particularly in babies, senior citizens, and people with long-term health problems. The flu is contagious, spread by virus-infected droplets that are coughed or sneezed into the air. People who are infected are contagious from a day before they feel sick until their symptoms have ended (about 1 week for adults, but this can be longer for young children).

The flu usually happens in small outbreaks, but epidemics, when the illness spreads rapidly and affects many people in an area at the same time, which tends to happen every few years. Epidemics often peak within two or three weeks after the first cases are reported. When an epidemic spreads worldwide, it's called a pandemic. The most recent flu pandemic was between 2009-2010, with the H1N1 (Swine) flu.

Cases of the flu rarely require specific medical treatment. But some children with chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or HIV infection) or children less than two years old might become sicker with the flu and may have a greater risk of complications. Some children with the flu need to be hospitalized. In the case of a severely ill child or one with other special circumstances, a doctor may prescribe an antiviral medicine that can shorten the illness by 1-2 days and prevent potential problems of the flu. This medicine is only helpful if given within 48 hours of the start of the flu. Most healthy people who get the flu do not need to take an antiviral medicine.

If an antiviral medication is prescribed, be sure to discuss any possible side effects with a doctor. These at-home tips can help most otherwise healthy children cope with the flu. The child can drink lots of fluids to prevent dehydration; they can get plenty of sleep and take it easy, and take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve fever and aches (do not give aspirin to children or teens because of its association with Reye syndrome) wear layers, since the flu often makes them cold one minute and hot the next (wearing layers; like a T-shirt, sweatshirt, and or robe, which makes it easy to add or remove clothes as needed).

Children who are sick should stay home from school and childcare until they are without fever for at least 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine. Some might need to stay home longer, depending on how they feel. If have questions or concerns, talk to a doctor. Contact the doctor if a child has any flu symptoms.

11 The Common Cold

The illness bringing with it sniffles and sneezes and perhaps a sore throat and annoying cough, the common cold catches everyone eventually. Children can get as many eight colds per year or more, this contagious viral infection of the upper respiratory tract is the most common infectious disease in the United States and the No. one reason children visit the doctor and stay home from school.

Most colds are caused by rhinoviruses that are in invisible droplets in the air we breathe or on things we touch. More than 100 different rhinoviruses can infiltrate the protective lining of the nose and throat, triggering an immune system reaction that can cause a throat sore and headache, and make it hard to breathe through the nose. Air that's dry, indoors or out can lower resistance to infection by the viruses that cause colds.

And so can being a smoker or being around someone who's smoking. Those who smoke are more likely to catch a cold than people who don't and their symptoms probably will be worse, last longer, and are more likely to lead to bronchitis or even pneumonia. Even though some old wives' tales, say not wearing a jacket or sweater when it's chilly, sitting or sleeping in a draft, and going outside while a hair's wet do not cause colds.

The first symptoms of a cold are often a tickle in the throat, a runny or stuffy nose, and sneezing. Children with colds may also have a sore throat, cough, headache, mild fever, fatigue, muscle aches, and loss of appetite. Nasal discharge may change from watery to thick yellow or green. A doctor won't be able to identify the specific virus causing cold symptoms, but can examine the child's throat and ears and take a throat to make sure the symptoms aren't from another condition that may need specific treatment. If symptoms get worse instead of better after three days or so, the problem could be strep throat, sinusitis, pneumonia, or bronchitis, especially if a person smokes around a son or daughter.

Taking a throat culture is a simple, painless procedure that involves brushing the inside of the throat with a long cotton swab. Examining the germs that stick to the swab will help the doctor determine whether a person’s child has strep throat and needs treatment with antibiotics. If symptoms last for more than a week, appear at the same time every year or occur when a child is exposed to pollen, dust, animals, or another substance, an allergy could be to blame. Children who have trouble breathing or wheeze when they catch a cold could have asthma. Always call the doctor if a child might have more than a cold, a child gets worse instead of better, or if any of these symptoms appear.

10 R.S.V or Respiratory Syncytial Virus

The worst thing about R.S.V is it looks and sounds like a cold, but respiratory syncytial virus (R.S.V) can become something more. If a child is otherwise healthy, like Janie, then RSV may only produce the symptoms of the common cold. Other symptoms that are prevalent, such as wheezing and grunting with each breath and/or fast breathing could also be present. If a premature infant, a young infant, or a child with a health condition that affects the lungs, heart, or immune system comes down with R.S.V, then the impact can be much greater. Those at high risk could develop bronchiolitis or pneumonia. In fact, R.S.V is the leading cause of infant hospitalizations for bronchiolitis in the United States.

The issue of age hinges on the fact that an infant’s chest walls are not very stiff because they are not well developed. An older child has a better-developed chest wall and can cough up the mucus caused by R.S.V. A baby can’t do this, so they are more likely to have clogged airways and a greater risk of further inflammation. That is why R.S.V is such a concern for the very young. In most cases like common colds, R.S.V is highly contagious and most often occurs in fall and winter (November - April). It can spread directly from person to person, or indirectly when someone touches any object infected with the virus, such as toys, countertops, doorknobs, or pens. Children under the age of 2 are most frequently affected by the very serious symptoms of R.S.V.

The best defense against R.S.V is to teach and encourage good hand washing habits for children. In fact, this is the most effective way to avoid infection. Also, try to steer clear of anyone who has obvious symptoms of a cold as much as they can. Because R.S.V is so infectious, it spreads easily and quickly at shopping malls, childcare centers, and schools. Many times, younger children are infected because an older child brings the virus home. If one child comes down with the virus, it is best to separate the child who has symptoms from others until the symptoms subside. The good news is that the majority of children who come in contact with RSV will never know they had anything more than just a “bad cold.

Fifth disease, also called erythema infectiosum, is usually not a serious infection. Its most notable symptom is a bright red patch or rash on a child’s cheeks. It is caused by a virus called parvovirus B19 and can be spread from person to person through droplets or secretions (saliva, sputum, etc.). It can also be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. The virus can cause serious illness in a fetus or in any child who has a certain type of anemia (low red blood cell count) such as sickle cell anemia. Outbreaks of parvovirus B19 infections occur from time to time in elementary and middle schools during the late winter and early spring months.

In the initial stages of fifth disease, a child may develop mild cold-like symptoms including a stuffy or a runny nose, sore throat, mild fever, muscle soreness, itching, fatigue, and headache. Less commonly, a child may experience aches in the knees or wrists. After seven to ten days of these first symptoms, the distinctive rash of fifth disease may appear. It typically starts on the face, giving the child a rosy-cheeked appearance. A slightly raised rash in a lace like pattern may develop on the torso and then spread to the arms, buttocks, and thighs. Five to ten days later, the rash will tend to fade. It may reappear briefly weeks or months later, especially when a child becomes hot while exercising, bathing, or sunbathing.

If a child’s symptoms seem to get worse with time or if she/he develops joint swelling, contact a pediatrician. If a child has sickle cell disease, contact a doctor whenever a child gets a fever or seems especially pale. Most children with fifth disease are treated only with symptomatic care to make them feel more comfortable. If a fever is present, a pediatrician may recommend acetaminophen to lower the temperature as well as to reduce the intensity of any aches and pains that are part of the illness.

A pediatrician also may advise using antihistamines to relieve any itching associated with the rash. In children with serious anemias, hospitalizations and blood transfusions are often needed. Never take risks with the health and well-being of a child.

9 Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is an illness that causes sores in or on the mouth and on the hands, feet, and sometimes the buttocks and legs. The sores may be painful. The illness usually doesn't last more than around a week. Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is common in children but can also occur in adults. It can occur at any time of year but is most common in the summer and fall. It is not the same as other diseases that have similar names: foot-and-mouth disease (sometimes called hoof-and-mouth disease) or mad cow disease. These diseases almost always occur in animals.

At first, a child may feel tired, get a sore throat, or have a fever of around 101°F (38°C) to 103°F (39°C). Then in a day or two, sores or blisters may appear in or on the mouth and on the hands, feet, and sometimes the buttocks. In some cases, a skin rash may appear before the blisters do. The blisters may break open and crust over. The sores and blisters usually go away in a week or so. In some cases, there are no symptoms, or they are very mild. Parents may get the disease from their children and not even realize it. A doctor can tell if a child has hand-foot-and-mouth disease by the symptoms a caregiver describe and by looking at the sores and blisters. Tests usually aren't needed.

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease usually doesn't need hospitalization for treatment. A person can use home care to help relieve a child's symptoms. Offer a child plenty of cool fluids to help with a sore throat. Cold foods such as flavored ice pops and ice cream also may help. Don't give a child acidic or spicy foods and drinks, such as salsa or orange juice. These foods can make mouth sores more painful. To treat pain and fever, give a child acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen (such as Advil). Never give a child aspirin. It has been linked to Reye's syndrome, a serious illness.

Children are most likely to spread the disease during the first week of the illness. The virus can stay in the stool (solid waste) for several months and may spread to others. In order to prevent the disease from spreading, be very careful when disposing of any kind of fecal matter. If a child goes to daycare or school, talk to the staff about when a child can return. Wash a person hands frequently. It is especially important to wash hands after someone touches a blister or change the diaper of an infected child. Teach all family members to wash their hands often. It is especially important to carefully wash hands after a person changes the diaper of an infected child. Don't let a child share toys or give kisses while he or she is infected.

8 Croup

Croup is a common respiratory problem in young children. It tends to occur mostly in the fall and winter. Its most common symptoms are a harsh, barking cough. Croup causes swelling and narrowing in the voice box, windpipe, and breathing tubes that lead to the lungs. This can make it hard for a child to breathe. An attack of croup can frighten a caregiver, however, it is rarely serious.

Children usually get better in several days with rest and care at home. Croup usually occurs a few days after the start of a cold and is usually caused by the same viruses that cause the common cold. Croup is contagious. The germs that cause it can be passed from one person to another through coughing and sneezing and through close contact. Regular hand-washing and limiting contact with others can help prevent the spread of croup.

As children grow older and their lungs and windpipes mature, they are less likely to get croup. Getting a flu vaccine each year may help a child fight off some of the viruses that can lead to croup. Symptoms of croup are caused by narrowed airways. They may include a harsh barking cough. The cough is similar to the sound of a barking seal. A raspy, voice is another common symptom. A harsh, crowing noise when inhaling is common. Sometimes, children breathe rapidly and need to sit up to breathe better.

Symptoms of croup often improve during the day and get worse at night. Sometimes, children have attacks of croup that wake them up in the middle of the night for a one to two nights in a row. Unless the illness is severe, a child with croup is usually alert and active. The child's temperature is usually normal or only slightly higher than normal. The illness usually improves in two to five days.

7 Scarlet Fever

Scarlet fever (also known as Scarlatina) used to be one of the most serious and deadly diseases of childhood. Today, it's treatable with antibiotics and is far less dangerous than it used to be. Most often scarlet fever shows up in children five to fifteen years of age, and it's very uncommon for children under age two to get it. Scarlet fever is basically strep throat with an accompanying rash. It starts as an upper respiratory infection caused by type A Streptococcal bacteria. This bacterium is the same bacteria that cause strep throat and some skin infections. The bacteria then release a toxin that causes the rash.

If a child has scarlet fever, he probably caught the strep infection from another child by breathing infected droplets, sharing a cup or utensil, and/or touching something that the infected child handled, like a towel or a toy. It's rare but also possible to develop scarlet fever from a strep skin infection such as impetigo, in which case a child would probably not have a sore throat

6 Impetigo

Impetigo, one of the most common skin infections among children, usually produces blisters or sores on the face, neck, hands, and diaper area. This contagious superficial skin infection is generally caused by one of two bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus pyogenes. Impetigo usually affects preschool and school-age children. A child may be more likely to develop impetigo if the skin has already been irritated by other skin problems, such as eczema, poison ivy, insect bites, and cuts or scrapes.

Routinely washing the face and hands can help prevent impetigo, which often develops when there is a sore or a rash that has been scratched repeatedly (for example, poison ivy can get infected and turn into impetigo). Doctors can usually diagnose impetigo based on the appearance of the rash. Occasionally, they may need to take a sample of fluid from blisters. Impetigo is typically treated with either an antibiotic ointment or medication taken by mouth.

5 Kawasaki Disease

Kawasaki disease is an illness that involves the skin, mouth, and lymph nodes, and most often affects children under age 5. The cause is unknown, but if the symptoms are recognized early, children with Kawasaki disease can fully recover within a few days. Untreated, it can lead to serious complications that can affect the heart.

Kawasaki disease is most common among children of Japanese and Korean descent, but can affect all ethnic groups. Kawasaki disease can't be prevented but, usually, has telltale symptoms and signs that appear in phases. The first phase, which can last for up to 2 weeks, usually involves a fever that lasts for at least 5 days.

The symptoms include severe redness in the eyes, a rash on the stomach, chest, and genitals. Other symptoms include red, dry, cracked lips, swollen tongue with a white coating and big red bumps (also known as "strawberry tongue"). A few seemingly mundane symptoms are sore, irritated throat, swollen palms of the hands and soles of the feet with a purple-red color and swollen lymph nodes. The disease unfolds in two phases.

During the second phase, which usually begins within 2 weeks of when the fever started, the skin on the hands and feet may begin to peel in large pieces. This can even happen in children who have already been treated. A child also may have joint pain, diarrhea, vomiting, or abdominal pain. If a child shows any of these symptoms, call a doctor.

Most children with Kawasaki disease start to get much better after a single treatment with gamma globulin, though sometimes more doses are needed. Most children recover completely, but some (especially those who develop heart problems after Kawasaki disease) might need further testing and treatments with a cardiologist.

4 Reye's Syndrome

Reye's (also known as "Ryes") syndrome is a rare but serious condition that causes swelling in the liver and brain. Reye's syndrome most often affects children and teenagers recovering from a viral infection, most commonly the flu or chickenpox. Signs and symptoms such as confusion, seizures and loss of consciousness require emergency treatment. Early diagnosis and treatment of Reye's syndrome can save a child's life. Aspirin has been linked with Reye's syndrome, so use caution when giving aspirin to children or teenagers. Though aspirin is approved for use in children older than age 2, children and teenagers recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin. Talk to a doctor if caregivers have concerns.

In Reye's syndrome, a child's blood sugar level typically drops while the levels of ammonia and acidity in his or her blood rise. At the same time, the liver may swell and develop fatty deposits. Swelling may also occur in the brain, which can cause seizures, convulsions or loss of consciousness. The signs and symptoms of Reye's syndrome typically appear about three to five days after the onset of a viral infection, such as the flu (influenza) or chickenpox, or an upper respiratory infection, such as a cold or Whooping Cough (Pertussis). Early diagnosis and treatment of Reye's syndrome can save a child's life. If a child is suspected to have Reye's syndrome, it's important to act quickly.

3 Strep Throat

This is another among a long list of common childhood ailments. The symptoms of strep throat, which are very common among children and teens, include fever, stomach pain, and red, swollen tonsils. Strep throat usually requires treatment with antibiotics. With the proper medical care, along with plenty of rest and fluids, a child should be back to school and healthy within a few days.

Anybody can get strep throat, but it's most common in school-age children and teens. These infections occur most often during the school year when large groups of children and teens are in close quarters. The bacteria that cause strep throat (group A streptococcus) tend to hang out in the nose and throat, so normal activities like sneezing, coughing, or shaking hands can easily spread infection from one person to another.

Someone whose strep throat isn't treated is most likely to spread the infection when the symptoms are most severe, but can still infect others for up to three weeks. That's why it's so important to teach children the importance of handwashing and good hygiene can lessen their chances of getting contagious diseases like strep throat.

2 Pink Eye

Pink eye, also known Conjunctivitis, is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the clear membrane that covers the white part of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelids. Pink eye can be alarming because it may make the eyes extremely red and can spread quickly. But it's fairly common and usually causes no long-term eye or vision damage. Still, if a child has symptoms of pink eye, it's important to see a doctor. Some kinds of pink eye can subside without treatment, but others need treatment.

Pink eye can be caused by many of the bacteria and viruses responsible for colds and other infections, however including ear infections, sinus infections, and sore throats and by the same types of bacteria that can cause chlamydia and gonorrhea, two sexually transmitted diseases (S.T.Is). Pink eye also can be caused by allergies. These cases tend to happen more often in kids who also have other allergic conditions, such as hay fever. Triggers for allergic conjunctivitis include grass, ragweed pollen, animal dander, and dust mites. Sometimes a substance in the environment can irritate the eyes and cause pinkeye, such as chemicals (chlorine, soaps, etc.) or air pollutants (smoke and fumes).

The different types of pink eye can have different symptoms, which can vary from child to child. One of the most common symptoms is discomfort in the eye. A child may say that it feels like there's sand in the eye. Many kids have redness of the eye and inner eyelid, which is why conjunctivitis is often called pink eye. It can also cause discharge from the eyes, which may cause the eyelids to stick together when a child wakes up. Some kids have swollen eyelids or sensitivity to bright light. In cases of allergic conjunctivitis, itchiness and tearing are common symptoms.

Pink eye is caused by a virus usually and thus usually subsides without any treatment. If a doctor thinks that the pink eye is due to a bacterial infection, antibiotic eye drops or ointment will be prescribed. If a child has pink eye and starts to develop increased swelling, redness, and tenderness in the eyelids and around the eye, along with a fever, a caregiver should contact a doctor. Those symptoms may mean the infection has started to spread beyond the conjunctiva and will need further treatment.

1 Pinworms

Pinworms are a type of parasite that lives in the digestive system of humans. They are common throughout the world. Adult pinworms are about 0.5 in. (12.7 mm) long and look like little white threads. Pinworm eggs are so small someone would need a microscope to see them. Most people get infected by accidentally swallowing pinworm eggs. Anyone can get pinworms, but they are most common in school-aged children.

A child swallows pinworm eggs usually spreads them, and they travel to the child’s intestines. In about a month, the eggs hatch into worms. At night the female worms crawl out the rectum and lay eggs around the child's anus. When the worms lay eggs, it can cause itching. If the child scratches, the eggs can cling to the child's fingers and get trapped under the fingernails. The eggs then adhere to things the child touches, such as clothing, dishes, toys, and furniture. The eggs can live two to three weeks outside the body. When a person touches something the child has touched, the eggs get on their hands. Then if a person touches touch food or her/his mouth, he/she can swallow the eggs. This starts the cycle over again.

Pinworms spread easily in homes, day care centers, schools, and other places where groups of people spend time together. So if one person in a family has pinworms, others probably do too. It's possible to get pinworms by inhaling airborne eggs, but this is rare. It's also rare to get pinworms from a swimming pool. Pinworms are spread from person to person. Pets don't get pinworms and can't spread them to humans. Many people with pinworms don't have symptoms and don't know that they're infected. When symptoms occur, the most common ones are, itching around the anus and restless sleep, because itching is often worse at night.

Pinworms can be annoying but they don't carry disease, and they rarely cause serious health problems. Sometimes people get a skin infection from scratching. She/he can treat pinworms with over-the-counter or prescription medicine that kills the worms. Treatment can help keep someone from getting infected again and from spreading the infection to other people.

Source: CDC.gov, Webmed.com, Netdoctor.co.uk, Childalert.co.uk

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