Autumn’s here: Let’s rake the leaves, pull out the sweaters and pray the kids don’t catch something at school that knocks the whole family out of commission for a week.
This season, take some precautions to keep your kids in the classroom instead of sick at home. There are seven “school-borne” maladies that every pupil encounters in the classroom. And since the weather is cooler and kids are indoors more, the chance that your child will catch a cold, flu bug or virus is (unfortunately) pretty good.Clean living
There’s no way to keep your kids completely unexposed to germs. But you can help youngsters dodge diseases by teaching them the importance of clean hands. Most school-borne illnesses are passed via hand-to-eye, -nose or -mouth contact. If kids become used to washing the fronts and backs of their hands with soap and running water before meals, after using the bathroom and after play, their odds of getting sick are greatly reduced.
Of course, germs occasionally manage to foil even the best preventive measures. When that happens, set up your at-home sick ward, don your best bedside manner, stock up on ice cream and assess the situation. Is it just a cold or does your child have a rash, swollen glands or a sore throat, too? Certain illnesses require a trip to your pediatrician for prescriptions and to make certain no underlying, more serious disease is at work.
That said, here’s how to care for your child and protect the rest of the family:
- Colds. Sneezing, coughing, fever and a glazed expression—your child has a rhinovirus, the germ that causes colds. To prevent it from spreading, keep your child away from others for a few days. Encourage lots of rest. Give warm liquids and acetaminophen for fever. Teach him or her to use tissues for nose blowing.
- Stomach flu. Nausea and diarrhea accompanied by fever mark this common ailment. Have your child rest to settle his or her stomach before trying to treat the flu itself. Once vomiting stops, feed your child small amounts of clear liquids over a span of a few hours. If that works, introduce bland foods—crackers or plain toast. Avoid dairy products and fatty foods for several days. Beware of dehydration—signs include extreme thirst, sunken eyes and crying with no tears.
- Strep throat. Strep causes a burning sore throat, difficulty swallowing and a fever. It also requires a trip to the doctor, who will perform a throat culture to confirm the diagnosis, then prescribe an antibiotic. Strep resolves in a day or two after treatment has begun; in the meantime, keep your child away from others.
- Chicken pox. This illness starts as an itchy red rash on the neck or upper back. Within five days, blisters cover most of the body, then crust over and heal. Chicken pox takes a week to clear. Moderate fever persists until the blistering stops. Treat sores with cool baking-soda baths and calamine lotion to relieve itching. Acetaminophen helps reduce fever. Since your child is contagious until the last blister crusts over, he or she must be quarantined. A better option: Be sure your child gets the chicken-pox vaccine. Two doses are recommended: one at 12 to 15 months and another at four to six years.
- Mononucleosis. Extreme fatigue, sore throat and swollen lymph nodes are good signs that your child may have “mono.” Your pediatrician can confirm the diagnosis with a blood test. Have your child gargle often with saltwater and get lots of rest. Mononucleosis often causes swelling of the spleen, an abdominal organ that helps filter blood. If that happens, your doctor will restrict your child’s activities until the spleen returns to normal.
- Pink eye. Also called conjunctivitis, pink eye is an infection of the eyelids that causes inflammation, blurry vision and mucous discharges. It is so contagious that most schools send an infected child home as soon as it’s detected. Your pediatrician can remedy pink eye with eye drops or antibiotics. At home, treat by placing a clean, warm washcloth against the eye. Change your child’s towels and pillowcases daily until the infection clears.
- Head lice. If your child has an itchy scalp, carefully examine it for signs of nits—tiny white lice eggs stuck to hair strands. A special over-the-counter shampoo will kill the nits, but the real challenge is preventing a recurrence. Wash your child’s bedding, towels and clothes in hot water; vacuum upholstery, carpets and car seats; and put stuffed toys into sealed plastic bags for two weeks to prevent stray nits from hatching.