6 Common School-Year Illnesses and How to Avoid Them

Off to school – or home for the day? It’s not always a clear choice for parents when their kids are feeling under the weather. But as we mark National Children’s Health Month in October, health care providers point to the most obvious reason for keeping your child home – a contagious infection.

“When kids come into contact with germs, they can unknowingly become infected simply by touching their eyes, nose, or mouth,” says Kate Cronan, M.D., medical editor at Nemours’ KidsHealth.org and a pediatrician at the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del. “And once they’re infected by contagious germs, it’s usually just a matter of time before other family members come down with the same illness.”

The pediatric health website KidsHealth.org lists these contagious illnesses to look out for during the school year.


• Pinkeye – Also known as conjunctivitis, pinkeye caused by viruses or bacteria is highly contagious. Prevent spreading pinkeye by having your child wash his hands often with soap and warm water, not touch his eyes and avoid sharing eyedrops, makeup, pillowcases, washcloths and towels.


• Strep Throat – Strep throat spreads through close contact, unwashed hands, and airborne droplets from sneezing or coughing. Prevent the spread by keeping a sick child’s eating utensils separate and washing them in hot, soapy water or a dishwasher. Instruct your child to sneeze or cough into her shirtsleeve (not hands) and to not share food, drinks, napkins or towels


• Head Lice – It’s common among kids ages 3-12 (and more so among girls), but anyone can become infected. While it’s not a sign of poor hygiene and lice do not spread disease, it’s absolutely a nuisance. Discourage your child from sharing combs, brushes, hats and helmets with others to help prevent the spread of lice. Read our article "How to Treat Lice" here.


• Molluscum Contagiosum – It sounds like a wizard curse from the Harry Potter book series, but it’s actually a skin rash common among kids ages 1-12. Many parents aren’t familiar with it, but it spreads easily and usually by skin-to-skin contact. Kids can also get it by touching objects with the virus on them (think toys, clothes, towels, bedding). Wash hands frequently with soap and warm water and avoid sharing towels, clothing or other personal items to prevent its spread.



• Walking Pneumonia – Walking pneumonia is the leading type of pneumonia in school-age kids and young adults. It spreads through person-to-person contact or breathing in particles sent into the air by sneezing or coughing. Walking pneumonia usually develops gradually and can be successfully treated with antibiotics. Encourage kids to wash hands frequently to prevent its spread.


Fighting the Flu

The sixth and probably most dreaded illness that looms for kids – and all of us – during the school year is the flu. And the best way to avoid getting sick is to get the flu vaccine each fall.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently issued a new policy statement stressing the importance of getting a new flu shot this season, even for kids who got the vaccine last year. That’s because immunity drops by up to 50 percent six to 12 months after getting an influenza vaccination, the AAP says.

The AAP recommends that everyone ages 6 months or older get the influenza vaccine, but the pediatricians organization asks that people who care for or work around those most vulnerable to flu-related complications make a special effort to be vaccinated, including family members, people regularly in the home of and outside care providers for children under age 5 or children with high-risk conditions such as asthma, diabetes or neurologic disorders. Health care personnel and all women who are pregnant, considering pregnancy or breastfeeding during flu season should also get vaccinated, the AAP says.

While parents of children with a mild egg allergy (with a reaction like hives) may be concerned about effects of the flu vaccine, the AAP says these kids can safely receive the shot without an allergy consultation. Parents of kids with a history of severe egg allergy (with cardiovascular, respiratory or gastrointestinal tract problems or requiring the use of epinephrine) should contact their allergist before seeking the flu vaccine, the pediatricians group says.


Specific recommendations for doses of the influenza vaccine this year include:

• one dose for kids ages 9 and up;

• one dose for kids ages 6 months to 8 years, if they received at least one dose of the flu vaccine last season;

• two doses for kids ages 6 months to 8 years, if they were not vaccinated for the flu at all last season. The second dose should be administered at least four weeks after the first.

The AAP continues to state that infants under 6 months of age are too young to be vaccinated.


Learn more about children’s health issues at www.kidshealth.org and about the flu, in particular, at www.healthychildren.org.

– Compiled by Deirdre Wilson, Senior Editor for the Boston Parents Paper.

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