With winter germs flying around and busy family schedules, it can be difficult to know when your child is too sick to go to school or be around other kids. Here are some tips to help you make the call:
Determine what is “too sick” for school: In general, if your child has a fever, severe respiratory symptoms, vomiting or diarrhea, “pink eye,” or is just not feeling well enough to participate in normal activities, it’s usually a good idea for him or her to stay home to rest and recover. If you have any questions or concerns about whether your child is well enough to be around other people, you should always ask your child’s doctor.
Know what’s contagious and what’s not: There are some common illnesses or conditions that children may get that aren’t contagious, such as eczema, asthma, allergies, etc. As for those illnesses, like cold and flu, that are contagious, a good rule of thumb is that most common viral upper respiratory illnesses are generally most contagious in the few days prior to and the few days after onset of symptoms. If you are not sure if your child’s specific illness is contagious, ask your pediatrician.
Go on the defensive: One of the best things that you can do to help protect your child’s health is to teach your child to practice good hand hygiene with frequent and thorough hand washing. Additionally, children 6 months and older are also recommended to receive the flu vaccine to help protect them against influenza. If your infant is too young to receive the flu vaccine, you can help protect them by getting the flu vaccine yourself and encouraging anyone who will be in close contact with your child to also get vaccinated.
When in doubt, trust your instincts (and your pediatrician). The question of whether or not to keep your child home from school or another activity can sometimes be a tricky one to answer. The most important things to keep in mind are to trust your parental instincts and always ask your pediatrician if you are ever in doubt. Additionally, many daycares, preschools, and grade schools have set guidelines about when your child should stay home. For example, schools usually require that a child be free of fever for at least 24 hours (without receiving fever-reducing medications) before returning to school. Check in with your child’s school for more details.
Madhavi Kapoor, MD, is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at NYU Langone Medical Center and a pediatrician at NYU Langone’s Trinity Center.