School is almost in session! Which means soon your child will be bringing home homework, class projects, and a whole bunch of germs. While you can’t send your child to school in full hazmat gear, you can reduce the risk of infection by learning how to identify illnesses, how it spreads and how to prevent them. Here is a list of the usual suspects to get you started:
The Common Cold – Nearly 22 million school days are lost to this each year, according to the CDC. This is a viral infectious disease that primarily targets the nose, so the symptoms most often include runny nose, sneezing, and coughing.
How it spreads: The common cold germs can be airborne whenever a sick child sneezes or coughs without covering her mouth. It can also be spread when a child sneezes or coughs into her hand and then touches toys or door handles which other children and adults may later touch.
How to prevent it: Make hand washing a habit for your entire family. Wash hands after playtime and before eating. Singing the alphabet during hand-washing helps make sure that you have scrubbed your hands and fingers long enough to get rid of those germs. If you or your child is already sick, practice the “vampire” move—cough or sneeze into the crook of your arm, like Dracula and his cloak.
How it spreads: Like the common cold, the flu can be spread in the air from an uncovered cough or sneeze or by touching germy items and then not washing your hands before eating or touching your face.
How to prevent it: Combined with good hygiene practices, a flu shot or nasal vaccine is the best weapon against the flu. At the very least, the vaccine will help reduce the symptoms of the flu if you or your child end up catching it.
Pink Eye—This inflammation of the outer most layer of the eye can cause uncomfortable itching, redness, pain, and even blurred vision. The first noticeable symptom is the crust around the eye or eyelids or the discharge from one or both eyes. If infected, your child will need antibiotic eye drops and must stay home until she is free of symptoms for at least 24 hours.
How it spreads: There are multiple culprits for pinkeye—allergies or irritants, viruses, and bacteria. The most common cases are either viral or bacterial which are extremely infectious and can spread through touch.
How to prevent it: Frequent hand-washing and not rubbing the eyes will help prevent the spread. Also, make sure your child doesn’t share blankets or pillows, especially if her friend has pink eye.
Strep Throat—This is caused by a streptococcal infection which targets the throat and causes severe throat pains, enlarged lymph nodes, and fever. Keep in mind a diagnosis of strep throat cannot be made by examining the throat alone; a lab test must be done before your physician prescribes antibiotics.
How it spreads: Like colds and the flu, Strep throat can be passed from one infect child to another, especially if they are in close contact of each other, either through the air or through touch.
How to prevent it: Make sure you child has developed strong hygiene habits and knows to keep a safe distance from other children complaining of sore throats.
Lice—According to the CDC, these creepy crawly parasites infest up to 12 million kids each year! If your child complains about her head tickling or itching, it’s time to start taking a close look at that scalp. If your child does have lice, use some delousing shampoo, run a fine-tooth comb through her hair, and launder her clothes.
How it spreads: While lice can’t fly or jump, they can still spread if your child comes into close contact with another child who has lice. They can also spread if infected clothes gets piled together with other children’s clothes.
How to prevent it: Lice will cling to anything for dear life until finding a new host. Make sure you children know not to share hats, scarves, or scrunchies. If a notice is sent home that a classmate has lice, inspect your child’s head immediately and try running her clothes in the wash at a 130 degrees F or higher.