It's almost impossible to keep kids completely healthy at school, and it's even harder to keep them from bringing home an infection or spreading an illness to their classmates.
“When kids come into contact with germs, they can unknowingly become infected simply by touching their eyes, nose or mouth,” said Dr. Kate Cronan, medical editor at Nemours' KidsHealth.org and a pediatrician at the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del. “And once they're infected by contagious germs, it's usually just a matter of time before other family members come down with the same illness.”
Following are the top conditions parents should look out for during the school year.
Also known as conjunctivitis, pinkeye is very contagious when caused by viruses or bacteria, Cronan said.
To prevent spreading pinkeye, kids should wash their hands often with warm water and soap; not touch their eyes; and avoid sharing eyedrops, makeup, pillowcases, washcloths and towels.
Strep throat spreads through close contact, unwashed hands and airborne droplets from sneezing or coughing, Cronan said.
To prevent the spread of strep throat: throw away a sick child's toothbrush, keep his or her eating utensils separate and wash them in hot, soapy water or a dishwasher. The child should not share food, drinks, napkins or towels. Teach your kids to sneeze or cough into a shirtsleeve, not their hands.
Despite parents' best efforts, “many children ages 5 through 16 years experience at least one episode of strep throat each year,” said Dr. Christopher Harrison, director of the Infectious Disease Research Laboratory at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Mo.
Head lice affects girls more often than boys, and are common among kids ages 3 to 12, Cronan said. To help prevent the spread of lice, Cronan said parents should discourage sharing combs, brushes and hats.
“Head lice invariably cause a panic within schools and raise fears in parents. As it turns out, head lice are not a health hazard,” Harrison said. “Most children with lice will complain of itching of the scalp and may have some mild redness where they have been scratching.”
If parents look closely at the child's scalp, Harrison said they might see the 1/8- to 1/4-inch gray-colored lice crawling on the scalp or tiny clear bumps on the hairs near the scalp. The bumps are the nits, which are the eggs of the lice. Head lice can be treated with anti-louse shampoos or other alternative methods.
This skin rash is common among kids from ages 1 to 12, yet many parents are not familiar with molluscum contagiosum, Cronan said.
It spreads most commonly through direct skin-to-skin contact, but kids can get it by touching objects with the virus on them such as toys, clothing, towels and bedding, Cronan said. Wash hands frequently with soap and warm water, and avoid sharing towels, clothing or other personal items to prevent its spread.
Walking pneumonia is the leading type of pneumonia in school-age kids and young adults, Cronan said. It spreads through person-to-person contact or by breathing in particles sent into the air by sneezing or coughing. Walking pneumonia usually develops gradually and can be successfully treated with antibiotics. Encourage kids to wash their hands thoroughly and frequently to prevent its spread.A tip about handwashing: Cronan said kids should use either regular soap or anti-bacterial brands. The trick is to take the time to do it right.
Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and clean, running water (cold or warm). If you need a timer, wash for the length of time it takes to hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If your child does develop an illness or infection, check with your health provider before returning him or her to school. And if your child has a fever, “keep the kid out of school until the fever is gone for 24 hours because it lessens the risk of infection to other children,” Cronan said.