With school now back in session for a few weeks, kids have had plenty of time to break in their new backpacks, school supplies, and clothes. However, it’s not what their kids are taking to school that has parents most concerned, it’s what they’re likely to bring back.
Germs and children go hand in hand, and trying to separate kids from contagious diseases is like trying to make water less wet. While respiratory viruses (colds) are the most common type of school-borne diseases, kids can carry home a wide spectrum of bugs that threaten to send the entire family to bed with the sniffles. So parents get ready, it’s time to stock up on the Theraflu and start taking the Emergen-C as the school year cold and flu season has officially begun.
Colds: They call it the common cold because these viruses are everywhere, and they don’t just wait until winter before they start coming out. Respiratory viruses can still get you sick in the summer, they are just more common during the winter when large groups of people tend to congregate in small, poorly ventilated spaces- such as the classroom. Coupled with most children’s poor personal hygiene habits, and it takes very little time for a respiratory virus strain to enter the classroom.
Strep: While strep infections are actually bacterial, not viruses, they still spread quickly once school begins. What makes strep so tricky is the bacteria’s ability to remain undetected for several days in a carrier. Children can easily have strep for several days prior to exhibiting any signs of the illness, and one out of five people can carry the bacteria without ever getting ill. This gives kids plenty of time to spread the bacteria to fellow classmates prior to becoming ill with a sore throat and fever.
Head Lice: The very thought of a head lice outbreak is enough to send most parents and school administrators into a cold sweat. Icky but harmless, children can spread these tiny pests to each other through contact, sharing combs or brushes, or just from hanging hats together in the closet. Unfortunately head lice have become quite resistant to most over-the-counter shampoos designed to kill the critters, so parents must stay persistent in order eliminate the problem. Nits, tiny eggs near the scalp, can stick to hair like glue and may need to be removed one at a time (hence the term nitpicky) prior to a child being allowed back to school. If store bought products fail to eliminate the problem, contact your doctor for a stronger prescription.
Flu: Despite the name, stomach flu isn’t actually a type of flu. This means that annual flu shots offer very little protection against the vomiting and diarrhea that is often the symptom of this type of virus. Little can be done to cure a viral illness, but numerous over-the-counter medications can help your little one (and you) deal with the symptoms of the virus. When dealing with a stomach flu, preventing dehydration is paramount, so make sure your child drinks plenty of water, sports drinks, or juice even if it ends up coming right back out.
The actual flu, short for influenza, can generally be prevent if your child receives an annual vaccination. While ideally a vaccine will cover all potential strains, flu viruses do mutate and change, reducing the effectiveness of vaccinations. Influenza still ranks as a major killer among children and the elderly, so any bout with the virus should be taken extremely serious by parents. In most cases bed rest will usually suffice, but antiviral medications can help to shorten a bout with the flu in severe cases.
Conjunctivitis: More commonly known as “pink eye,” most forms of conjunctivitis are highly infectious viral and bacterial strains that will earn your child a ticket straight back home from school. Because it’s difficult to tell the difference between the two types of conjunctivitis, it’s not uncommon for doctors to prescribe antibiotic eye drops even if a child doesn’t have the bacterial strain. When pink eyes start to stare, parents need to make sure that everybody washes their hands, uses a clean towel, and they disinfect any surfaces their child has used.
Timothy Lemke writes about how to keep your child healthy this school year for Dr. Lance Heppler, a dentist in Astoria Oregon.