How to Survive Your Child's Next Sick Day
By Eric Dorn, MD, Virtua Pediatrician
The dreaded “stay-home-sick days” are a rite of passage for all parents, and they always hit at the worst times. Like, when you’re already dressed and ready to leave for an important meeting, and your daughter can’t get out of bed because she’s hot to the touch with a fever.
When a child must stay home from school, it’s often a major inconvenience for the whole family. But, it’s important to get your kids the treatment they need before sending them back to class. Here are a few tips to help you handle sick kids so you can all get back to your routines as soon—and as healthy—as possible.
The 24-Hour Rule
The 24-Hour Rule means that your child should be on an antibiotic or symptom-free for 24 hours before returning to school. This applies for most sudden illnesses including:
- Bacterial infections, such as strep throat, that require antibiotics
- Vomiting or diarrhea
The reasons for this rule are pretty straightforward: Antibiotics kill most contagious bacteria within the first 24 hours—however, it’s still very important to continue the full course of treatment prescribed by the doctor. When it comes to fever, vomiting or diarrhea, kids are more likely to infect their classmates while they have active symptoms.
However, there are some exceptions to the rule. These include:
- Pinkeye: If a child has pinkeye and isn’t better within 24 hours of starting antibacterial eye drops, the source is probably viral; therefore, the child should stay home until the redness subsides.
- Hand, foot and mouth disease and fifth disease: In these cases, children are most contagious before the rash appears. In general, they don’t have to wait for the rash to clear to go back to school.
Better Hygiene = A Healthier Home
If you have a sick child at home, follow these hygiene rules to keep germs from spreading through the whole family.
- Make sure EVERYONE washes their hands—paying special attention to thumbs and fingertips.
- Remind the sick child to cough and sneeze into their elbow, not their hand.
- If the child’s old enough, try to keep him or her quarantined in bed, instead of in shared living space like the family room couch.
- Keep one drinking cup and one set of utensils separate for the sick child, and consider replacing his or her toothbrush after the illness passes.
These precautions are especially crucial if there’s a baby sibling in the house. Infants are not equipped to handle illnesses as well as their big brothers and sisters. What’s more, they can’t explain to their parent or doctor what’s bothering them, so high fevers and other sudden symptoms require a lot more testing and investigation.
To Keep Kids Feeling Great, Vaccinate & Communicate
This is an alarming trend, and it reminds us that all children need to be vaccinated. Keeping up with scheduled immunizations will keep your children, and the children they go to school with, much safer. It also significantly reduces the risk of missing a long stretch of school and workdays.
As a final note, when your child does come down with a contagious illness, it’s a good idea to notify your child’s teacher and the school nurse. This allows other parents to be on the lookout for symptoms in their own kids, which is especially helpful with hand, foot and mouth disease and fifth disease because they don’t present with clear symptoms until after the contagious period passes.
Also, pay special attention when a note from the school nurse comes home, and use it as a reason to reinforce good hygiene habits for both you and your children.
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Updated November 7, 2019