For kids heading back to school this fall, it's just a matter of time until they come down with the sniffles, coughs or worse. Despite a cleaning crew's best efforts, classrooms morph into petri dishes when kids get a bug, especially when they can spread infection long before they know they're sick. To arm parents and kids against the most likely sicknesses in class, we talked to Dr. Jennifer Shu, a pediatrician with the Children's Medical Group in Atlanta and a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, to learn more.
1) Common cold: Not surprisingly, this is the illness seen most often in Shu's practice. She advises parents to keep their kids with colds at home as long as they have a fever, or if they feel very sick. Best advice to prevent infection? Make sure your little one gets enough sleep, has a healthy diet, and learns to sneeze and cough in his sleeve to prevent spreading infection. Oh, and teach him to wash his hands frequently. The AAP suggests taking your child to the doctor if symptoms persist beyond two weeks or include ear pain, difficulty breathing or excessive tiredness.
2) Strep throat: If it seems that your child can't kick the strep throat bug, it's because the bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes has several strains and spreads easily from infected saliva, Shu said. As soon as you suspect your child has strep, which causes a very red and sore throat, fever, headache and stomach pains, have him tested by a doctor. Keep him at home until he's fever-free for 24 hours or on antibiotics for at least a day. Best advice? Tell the little one to avoid sharing drinks and to wash hands frequently.
3) Stomach bugs: The first thing to do if your child is vomiting or has diarrhea from a stomach bug is obvious: Keep him home, lest he encounter his most embarrassing moment ever at school. Shu said to watch out for dehydration by making sure your child has lots of fluids and rest but eats solid food only once he's able to digest it. Call your doctor if your child has a fever, if blood is present in his waste or if you suspect the illness is food- or travel-related.
4) Pinkeye: This sticky, gooey infection, marked by bright pink eyes and yellow-green pus, luckily isn't as serious as it looks. That said, it's easily spread. Conjunctivitis, which can be viral or bacterial according to the AAP's website, Healthychildren.org, is spread by sharing towels, washcloths or pillows. Shu added that it's most common in children who are prone to touching others. While the viral version clears up in a few days, persistent infections should be seen by a doctor as antibiotics (eyedrops or an ointment for the bacterial variety) are in order. The little one is contagious until he's been on the drops for 24 hours, Shu said, though the AAP suggests keeping your child at home until the infection is gone. And make sure he keeps his hands to himself.
5) Head lice: OK, this isn't a bacteria or virus, but it's one bug you don't want your kid to catch. While the AAP recently recommended that children with lice need not be kept at home, Shu recommends treating lice as soon as possible with a lice-fighting shampoo. She noted the shampoos only kill live lice and do not penetrate the lice shells or nits, thus parents should repeat treatments in one week. Best advice? Remind your child not to share hats, brushes or combs with friends. (Some schools allow children to keep their coats and backpacks at their desks, instead of transmission-friendly communal closets.)
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