Fall is officially here and the school year is in full swing! Unfortunately, this also means we are nearing the peak of cold and flu season. Over the next few months, many parents of ill children will be faced with the decision whether or not to send their child to school. The most important thing for parents to consider when making this decision is if the child will be able to learn and participate in school activities. We also don’t want to unnecessarily expose other children to illness causing germs. However, we all want to minimize missed school and work days for both students and their parents. Below are a few guidelines that can help parents make this often tricky call.
A fever is body’s way of fighting off infection and is the most common reason parents keep their children home from school. The definition of a fever is a temperature of 100.4 or higher, though some schools and daycare centers will have their own rules. The general rule of thumb is to keep your child home until they have been fever free for 24 hours.
Upper respiratory Infections
Most children will have several different cold viruses each winter. A child with typical cold symptoms including a runny nose, sore throat, and cough can usually participate in school without any restrictions. Coughs may linger for several weeks after the other symptoms have resolved. It is important to go over the importance of coughing or sneezing into an elbow or a tissue and proper hand washing techniques with your sick child to limit the spread of these germs.
It may be necessary to keep a child home if they have more severe symptoms, such as extreme fatigue, loss of appetite, or anything else that will keep them from learning and participating at school. If a child has influenza (the “flu”), they should be kept home from school until their symptoms have resolved. The flu is similar to a cold but is accompanied by high fevers and body aches. We recommend an annual influenza vaccine to help lower the risk of this illness.
If your child has an ear, sinus, or strep throat infection it is recommended that they stay home from school until at least 24 hours after antibiotic treatment has been started. Conjunctivitis (also known as “pink eye”) can be caused by allergies or a virus, but when it’s caused by bacteria it is very contagious and needs antibiotic treatment before the child returns to school.
Vomiting and Diarrhea
Children with vomiting and diarrhea should also be kept home until their symptoms have resolved. If there are no other symptoms, older children with mild diarrhea that are able to use the toilet and wash their hands on their own may go to school if they don’t have any other symptoms.
Most childhood rashes are caused by viruses and most are not cause for concern. Certain rashes, such as chicken pox are more severe and highly contagious. If a rash is accompanied by a fever, the child should not attend school. If you are unsure what is causing a child’s rash, it’s a good idea for them be seen by their healthcare provider to find out what the rash is and any precautions that should be taken.
Lice is another common reason for children to miss school. In the past, many schools had a “no nits” policy. Experts now agree that these absences are unnecessary and children can return to school as soon as they have had one lice treatment.
Illnesses are a normal part childhood. We can’t keep our children home for every sniffle and sneeze, but we do want to minimize the spread of germs and make sure that our children go to school ready to learn. If you have any questions about whether or not to send your child to school, talk to your child’s healthcare provider.
Autumn Barbero, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner