Across the country, children are mourning the end of summer while their parents rejoice at the prospect of having clean houses again. As summer ends and school begins, however, parents may soon find themselves facing an even more daunting prospect than sticky countertops and messy rooms: back-to-school sicknesses. Here are the five most common illnesses that kids may encounter.
The Common Cold
While not only limited to the beginning of the school year, cases of the common cold tend to spike as kids go back to school. Kids average six to eight colds a year, a higher rate than your average adult’s two to four colds. With school keeping kids indoors more, the bacteria have the perfect breeding ground to infect as many people as possible. Typical symptoms include: a runny or stuffy nose, mild sore throat, and a cough. While irritating, most colds shouldn’t prevent your little one from going to school—no matter how much they protest to the contrary. Encouraging them to sneeze into their elbow—or a tissue—and washing their hands frequently should help limit the spread of the cold to other classmates. However, any child with a fever of 100.4 F or higher should remain at home until the fever breaks.
Even with the continuous update of flu vaccinations, some strands of the virus remain resistant. The result is sick, miserable kids and stressed out parents. Somewhat similar to the common cold, flu symptoms are typically more severe, and often include: a high fever (over 101 F), body aches, and unusual fatigue. According to the CDC, children 5 and younger who exhibit flu-like symptoms may need to be taken to a medical professional, as they’re at higher risk for serious flu-related complications. Children over 5 will only need to see a doctor as needed. Typical treatment includes sufficient fluids and plenty of rest, though your child’s physician can offer antiviral drugs if their symptoms inspire enough concern. However, unlike the common cold, kids with the flu shouldn’t be sent back to school until their symptoms have fully cleared.
Gastroenteritis (or the Stomach Bug)
Possibly the most nightmarish of the back-to-school bugs, gastroenteritis is a virus that affects the lining of the GI tract, resulting in pain, diarrhea, and of course, vomiting. Highly contagious and extremely common, the stomach bug has been known to decimate entire classrooms over the course of a few weeks. The majority of cases—around 80 percent—occur in the fall and winter months, which makes its occurrence in school children highly likely. Due to the aggressiveness of the virus’s symptoms, the risk of dehydration is high, especially in children.
Making sure they’re replacing lost fluids with water is the first step towards recovery. Once the vomiting has stopped, most providers would recommend easing into a bland diet: the popular BRAT acronym is often employed, meaning Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast. Given the stomach bug’s high contagious levels, general wisdom dictates that kids shouldn’t return to school until being well for at least 3 days. If they’re still not eating normally, they’re still sick and risk infecting others.
Eye discharge is no one’s favorite thing. Highly contagious like the other back-to-school sicknesses, pink eye tends to inspire vigorous hand washing—a good way to prevent its spread. But if your kid is already suffering from pink eye—also known as bacterial conjunctivitis—hand washing does little good. Symptoms include yellow or green eye discharge that may result in your child waking up with one or both eyes sealed shut. Topical antibiotic ointments or eye drops are the recommended treatments for pink eye. Given its highly contagious (and gross) nature, most schools and day cares will require a child suffering from pink eye to remain at home until they’re fully recovered.
Caused by the streptococcus bacteria, strep throat often results in high fevers, severe sore throats, headaches, and a loss of appetite. Until treated with antibiotics, your child will remain contagious for one to three days. However, the majority of sore throats have more benign causes, and self-diagnosing strep throat is often unhelpful. A quick trip to your child’s physician for a rapid strep test—which typically only takes around 15 minutes—can help determine if your child needs antibiotics or a simple over-the-counter remedy. After treatment has begun and symptoms lessen, children should still not return to school or day care until their fever has dissipated and they’ve been medicated for at least 24 hours.
No matter which of the back-to-school bugs your kids (and you) encounter, we here at InSync wish you all a pleasant—and hopefully sickness free—school year.