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Cold & Flu: Should They Stay, or Should They Go?

Cold & Flu: Should They Stay, or Should They Go?

It’s here: cold and flu season. Like most parents, you’ve probably asked this question at least once lately: “Is my child too sick to go to school today?”

School-age children average five to six colds a year. And children younger than 18 are more than twice as likely to develop the flu than adults 65 and older. Answering the simple question of whether or not your child should stay home is complicated. On the one hand, you don’t want them to fall behind by missing school. On the other, if your child is sick and you send them to school, they may feel worse or spread germs to other people.

This school year, keep your child healthy and in the classroom instead of at the doctor’s office. And, when in doubt, follow your child’s school guidelines on when and how long they should stay home with an illness.

Should My Child Stay Home from School?

In crowded places like schools and daycare centers, there are many germs and illnesses. Some symptoms may only be an inconvenience, while others require a visit to the doctor, medicine, and a few days of rest. Some symptoms require your child to stay home a full 24 hours after taking antibiotics, even if they are feeling better.

If you answer yes to any of the questions below, consider keeping your child at home for the day:

  • Does your child have a fever of 101 F or higher?
    A fever is the #1 sign that your body is fighting germs or infection. It’s also a common symptom of the flu. If your child has a fever of 101 F or higher, wait at least 24 hours after they are fever-free to send them back to school. If your child’s fever lasts more than five days or is 104 F or higher, see a doctor immediately.
  • Does your child have diarrhea?
    Food poisoning, some medications, or an infection can cause diarrhea. It can also lead to dehydration, so make sure your child drinks plenty of fluids throughout the day. Keep them home until their stools are solid and the doctor gives you the OK.
  • Has your child vomited twice or more in the last 24 hours?
    Luckily, vomiting is often short-lived. It’s our body’s way of getting rid of germs. Often, a stomach virus causes it. Keep your child home if they’ve vomited twice or more in the past 24 hours. It’s safe to send them back to school when their symptoms are gone or when the doctor deems them not contagious.
  • Does your child have a serious cough or sore throat? A sore or scratchy throat can be a symptom of a cold or strep throat. Keep your child home for at least 24 hours after starting antibiotics if they’ve been diagnosed with strep.
  • Does your child have eye redness, irritation, swelling, or pus, all signs of pinkeye? Also known as conjunctivitis, pinkeye is very contagious. It spreads quickly and sometimes needs medical attention. An infected child should stay home for the first 24 hours after beginning treatment.
  • Does your child have a severe or painful headache? Sometimes headaches can be a symptom of a contagious illness like the flu, meningitis, or strep throat. However, if your child doesn’t have any other signs of illness and feels fine, they can go to school.
  • Does your child have a mysterious rash? A rash can be a sign of contagious illnesses such as chickenpox, meningitis, or impetigo. Keep your child home until they’ve been diagnosed; they can head back to school after the symptoms disappear and the doctor gives the OK.
  • Does your child have an earache? These may be a painful annoyance, but they typically aren’t contagious. A child with an earache can go to school as long as they feel well enough to concentrate.

Sometimes children only need a day of rest to recover from an illness. Sometimes they need to be out of school longer to prevent getting sicker or spreading germs to other children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you ask yourself three important questions before keeping your child home from school:

  1. Does your child have a fever? Always keep your child home if they have a temperature of 101 F or higher.
  2. Is your child well enough to participate in class? If your child seems too lethargic or is in too much pain to pay attention in class, keep them home.
  3. Does your child have an illness like the flu or pinkeye? These illnesses can be very contagious to other children and adults. Your child should stay home to avoid spreading germs to their classmates.

Prevention Is Key

No one wants their child to get sick, feel miserable, and miss school. There are multiple ways to prevent the spread of germs before disease or illness starts:

  • Avoid the exchange of unwanted germs. The National Sanitation Foundation, which tests and certifies sanitation products and systems, found more bacteria in drinking fountains than bathrooms. In their study, 2.7 million bacterial cells were found per square inch on water fountains. Teach your child not to put their mouths on the water spigot or send them to school with their own water bottle if it is permitted.
  • Build your child’s immunity. When children eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and avoid stress, they are less likely to get sick. Packing a healthy lunch and encouraging them to drink water instead of sugary drinks will keep their immune system strong.
  • Clean and disinfect all surfaces and objects. This includes toys, television remotes, and keyboards—especially if someone is sick. Focus on the areas used by many people.
  • Donate illness prevention supplies to your child’s classroom. To help teachers maintain a clean, healthy classroom, donate items such as tissues, soap, hand sanitizer, and bacterial wipes.
  • Keep backpacks clean. They can get incredibly dirty from everyday activities and forgotten lunches, so make sure your child cleans out their backpack frequently. It can be cleaned with a sanitary wipe or a wet cloth.
  • Make sure your child is up to date on all immunizations. Everyone in the family should have a seasonal flu vaccine. If you haven’t had yours yet, flu vaccines are available at our Primary Care locations as well as regular office hours (click here to learn more).
  • Remind your child not to share food, drinks, lip balm, locker-room towels, headphones, and other items with classmates.
  • Remind your child to wash their hands frequently throughout the day and avoid touching their eyes, mouth, and nose whenever possible.
  • Supply your child with their own pencil box and materials so they are less likely to pick up an illness from sharing these objects.

Teach Your Kids about Germs

To prevent illness before it starts, encourage your child to be mindful of germs and people around them.

  • Make sure your children know to wash their hands properly, especially after using the bathroom. On field trips or other school events, hand sanitizer can be a substitute for soap and water.
  • Teach children to cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when they sneeze or cough. Then, throw the tissue into the trash immediately after using it.
  • If a tissue isn’t available, cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow, not your hand.
  • Stay home when you are sick; this will prevent others from catching your illness. Avoid close contact with others when they are sick.

Still Can’t Decide? Ask for Help

If your child has any of the symptoms listed above or you’re concerned about the length of their symptoms, contact a doctor immediately. Frederick Health Urgent Care, located right across the street from the hospital, offers fast, affordable treatment for common illnesses like cold and flu. Skip the ER and get treated fast. Urgent Care is an alternative option to an emergency room visit, providing you the care you and your children need with no appointment or referral required. Plus, we’re open 7 days a week.

Or, schedule a virtual visit from the comfort of your home. In just an hour, you can connect with a trusted Frederick Health provider online to get diagnosed and treated for cold, flu, diarrhea, sinus infections, pinkeye, and more. There’s no appointment needed and no