With November just a week away, chances are that you have already started noticing telltale signs of your least favorite time of the year: cold and flu season. And as parents know, cold and flu season often hits schools and kids the hardest.
Children spend five days a week sitting closely alongside their fellow students, sharing desks and school supplies. This close proximity puts students at a high risk of catching contagious diseases, especially during cold and flu season.
This time of year often raises questions for parents regarding how to keep their children as healthy as possible, as well as when to keep their little ones home from school. These are the questions we want to answer today to help prepare you for the possible illnesses your children could catch and bring home this season.
What illnesses are my children most likely to catch while at school?
There are three particularly common bugs to watch out for if your children spend their day in a school:
The Common Cold: Few diseases are as recognizable as the common cold, a viral condition that affects the upper respiratory tract. And it’s definitely common: a total of 22 million school days are lost to them each year, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The common cold spreads via water droplets that enter the air every time an infected individual sneezes or coughs. Breathing contaminated air, or touching an item like a pen or toy that has been contaminated, helps to spread the common cold from child to child.
The Flu: The flu, or influenza, affects the upper and lower respiratory tracts. It’s very contagious and is caused specifically by the influenza virus. However, the flu hits much harder and often lasts longer than a cold, and complications from the flu can be much more serious than the ones from a common cold. Like the cold, flu viruses spread via direct contact and water droplets in the air.
Strep Throat: This bacterial infection affects the throat and tonsils, which leads to a sore throat that causes pain when swallowing or breathing. Other side effects of this infection include a fever, headache, stomach pain, swollen tonsils, and white or yellow spots in a child’s throat. Just like the cold and flu, strep passes from person to person through water droplets in the air. The bacterium can also live briefly on doorknobs, faucet handles, and other surfaces that children often come into contact with.
What can I do to reduce the risk of my child getting sick?
While there’s no way to make our lives 100% germ-free, there are four key habits and behaviors that parents can encourage and help with to keep your children healthier overall:
Teach your children about good hygiene: Teaching children to wash their hands with soap and hot water after using the restroom, after gym and recess, and before eating lunch or a snack will go a long way in preventing the spread of contagious diseases. (Encourage your children to use regular soap when they do this, as antibacterial soap may not work as effectively against cold and flu viruses.)
Encourage children to minimize potential exposure: Children should avoid touching their face or rubbing their eyes or nose whenever possible, as these are great routes for viruses to get into our bodies. They should also be encouraged to stand away from classmates who look or sound sick whenever possible.
Instruct children on proper coughing/sneezing etiquette: To avoid spreading viruses through the air, all children should be instructed to cough or sneeze into their hands and to wash their hands immediately after doing so. Another thing children can do to reduce the risk of spreading germs via direct contact is cough or sneeze into their arm or elbow rather than their hands.
Vaccinate your children: Vaccinations help to prevent the development of symptoms even if a child catches the germs they’re vaccinated against. Vaccinations will also make symptoms less severe in the event that the shot isn’t 100% effective.
What should I do if my child falls ill?
While missing a day of school is inconvenient for both you and your child, when children begin to get sick it’s best to keep them home from school. This allows your child to rest and will prevent their illness from spreading to their classmates. It’s particularly important to keep a child home if they:
Develop a fever above 100 degrees F.
Experience more than one episode of vomiting or diarrhea
Have an unexplained rash, red eyes, a runny nose or a severe cough
Until these symptoms have subsided and been kept under control for at least 24 hours, a child should not go to school.
And while we can’t predict exactly when a child will get sick, there are still things that parents can do to prepare for this. For example, if you work full-time, it helps to try and plan for possible sick days with your employer. However, if your schedule isn’t flexible enough to let you stay home with your child if they fall ill suddenly, be sure to have a back-up plan. Talk to family or local care providers who could watch your child for a day, so you can arrange care at the last minute if it’s needed. It’s also important to keep your supply closet stocked with medicines for headaches, sore throats and fevers - that way there’s no last-minute dash to the store when your child needs medicine.
While illnesses can potentially be disruptive during the fall and winter months, with a little planning and the encouragement of healthy habits these seasons can be enjoyed to the fullest. We encourage all parents to follow the tips listed here to help keep their children healthy and happy, and we also invite any parents with questions or concerns to call our offices to discuss your child’s individual needs.