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Categories > Children’s Health > Infectious diseases

Back-to-school bugs

Returning to school in the fall gives children a chance to share many things with their schoolmates: vacation souvenirs, tales of camp adventures—and germs. Illness-causing viruses and bacteria spread quickly in classrooms. In fact, kids catch as many as eight colds a year. Here’s a list of the most common bugs your family may face this year:

  • Influenza. At first sneeze, it may seem like a cold, but symptoms of a flu virus are more severe and include sore throat, runny nose, cough, fever, chills, head and muscle aches, fatigue, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. Getting an annual flu vaccine will protect your child against three common strains of flu viruses.
  • Viral gastroenteritis. The so-called “stomach flu” causes diarrhea, abdominal cramps and pain, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches or headaches. The usual culprits are the rotavirus or norovirus. Symptoms typically appear in one to three days after becoming infected. Relief begins in a day or two, but call your pediatrician if symptoms persist or worsen or you see signs of dehydration.
  • Pinkeye (conjunctivitis). The pain, itching, redness and discharge that glues the eyelids shut overnight is hard to miss and highly contagious. When pinkeye is caused by the adenovirus—the most common cause—it usually clears up without treatment. But if a bacterium is at work, your pediatrician will prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointment.
  • MRSA. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a troubling infection that’s resistant to broad-spectrum antibiotics. Staph bacteria enter the skin through a cut or a scrape and may cause a bloodstream infection, pneumonia or serious infections in the bones, joints or heart valves. Skin-to-skin contact among athletes like football players and wrestlers is one way MRSA is spread.
  • Mononucleosis. The Epstein-Barr virus, which produces only mild symptoms in young children, hits older kids and teens harder, causing mononucleosis. Flulike symptoms combine with swollen lymph nodes, skin rash, abdominal pain, unexplained fatigue and weakness and an enlarged liver and spleen. Symptoms typically go away in two to four weeks, but fatigue may persist for months. Kids will have to avoid sports while their spleen remains enlarged.
  • Strep throat. A sore throat could be the beginning of a cold, but if in about three days, your child also develops red and white patches in the throat, enlarged tonsils, difficulty swallowing, fever, headache, nausea or rash, he or she may have a Group A streptococcal infection. Strep throat is treated with antibiotics.