Do you know when your child is too sick for school?

Do you know when your child is too sick for school?

As you may have already heard, several suburban Chicago school districts have been particularly hard-hit this flu season. From Oak Park to La Grange to the Near West Side, the Cook County Department of Public Health has recently reported an increase in school districts reporting outbreaks of influenza hitting their schools.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an average of 5 to 20 percent of people in the U.S. is infected with the flu each year, resulting in more than 200,000 hospitalizations.

“If your child is showing flu-like symptoms, it’s important that you keep them home to keep everyone safe,” says Dr. James Malow, infectious disease specialist with Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. “One sick child can infect countless others, since they can remain contagious up to seven days after showing their first minor signs of illness.”

So, do you know when to keep your child home from school?

Dr. Malow says the guidelines are much the same for children as they are for adults when considering when to stay home from work if you’re feeling sick. Flu symptoms for children include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Possible vomiting and diarrhea

“If your child is exhibiting any combination of these symptoms, it’s a safe bet that you should keep them home for at least the day,” Dr. Malow says. “Children can be contagious even a few days before they develop the outward symptoms, so it’s best to try to nip it in the bud.”

And, though there have been reports that this year’s flu vaccination may not cover the exact strains currently circulating around the nation, the shot is still your family’s best defense against the virus, he says.

Additionally, he offered these tips to help your whole family avoid the flu this season:

  • Wash your hands frequently, using soap and water or alcohol-based hand gels or lotions. Rub your hands together for at least 20 seconds to eliminate germs, being certain to wash around your fingernails and up your wrists.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes, using a tissue, handkerchief or the crook of your elbow. If you cough into your hands, wash them before touching anything to avoid possibly spreading illness on to others.
  • If possible, limit time in large crowds, especially in tight spaces, where germs are easily spread.
  • Keep your immune system healthy and ready to fight off infection by eating right, getting plenty of rest and exercising regularly.

And if your child does get sick, be sure to contact your pediatrician or primary care physician right away, Dr. Malow says, avoiding the emergency room unless absolutely necessary.

“Every parent wants to see their child happy and health,” Dr. Malow says. “And you are your child’s best advocate in health. Set a life-long example for your children by showing them it’s OK to stay home if they’re not feeling well.”

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  1. Angela Hacke

    I wish everyone would follow these guidelines for kids and adults. Sometimes I want to keep my kids home so they don’t get sick! I actually did that today–I did not send my daughter to daycare because I don’t want her to catch something before the holidays!

  2. Kelly Jo Golson

    I agree with Angela. I am so disappointed in the number of people who send their kids to school and to sport activities when they are known to be sick. There are many of us who are dealing with serious health situations and exposing our children to these illnesses has real life consequences for our family. Thanks for helping spread an important message Tim!

  3. Kids always seem to have a cough or a runny nose, so it’s hard to tell when it’s time to keep them home.

  4. Lisa Parro

    My house has been a petri dish of germs since Thanksgiving, with all of us passing colds and coughs back and forth. When will summer arrive so we can get some fresh air?

  5. How long is too long for a 4 yr. old to have a cough and runny nose? I think my grand daughter should see a doctor but her mom says she’s fine.

    • Hi, Marie! My apologies on the delay in response, but I wanted to be certain to get a good answer for you right from Dr. Kamala Ghaey, the pediatrician quoted in this article. Here’s what she had to say:

      This is a good question. Here are the general rules of thumb:
      • If symptomatic but otherwise doing well, such as eating and playing, there’s no need for intervention, especially if the child is in a child care setting or preschool.
      • Children with a fever lasting more than 48 to 72 hours should be seen by their pediatrician.
      • If the child is coughing when first laying down or when waking, the cause is most likely postnasal drip, usually caused by allergies. If the child is breathing through the mouth while sleeping and has a fever, these may be signs of sinusitis.
      • If the child is coughing while running or being active, or while in a deep sleep (midnight to 2 a.m.), this could be a symptom of a cough variant asthma, which needs to be evaluated by a physician.

      I hope this helps and your granddaughter is feeling better soon!

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.