Stay Healthy Tips for Kids in School

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Classroom Contagions

Here are the symptoms of and treatments for the most common illnesses in schools:

Strep Throat

The bacterium streptococcus causes this often-painful infection.

Symptoms: Symptoms generally come on suddenly and include sore throat, chills, fever, headache, nausea and sometimes vomiting. The throat is red and tonsils are swollen. Lymph nodes may also be swollen.

Diagnosis/treatment: A strep test at the doctor's office can quickly diagnose the illness, and a 10-day course of antibiotics is typically prescribed. At many schools, students are allowed to return to school after 24 hours or more of physician-prescribed medication, but check with your school first.

Head Lice

This is one of the most common -- and easy-to-catch -- problems that plague schools today. Children who play together or share hats or combs are susceptible.

Symptoms: A child will experience an extremely itchy scalp. Sometimes lymph glands in the back of the neck can become swollen.

Diagnosis/treatment: Female lice lay shiny white eggs in hair, which can be seen upon close inspection. (It may even look like dandruff.) If you suspect lice, call your child's doctor -- he'll likely prescribe a medicated shampoo. You also must wash all bedding and clothing (and don't forget stuffed animals) that have come in contact with your child in the last 48 hours to prevent re-infection.

Fifth Disease

Most kids are exposed to this viral disease before kindergarten, but it always seems to appear in elementary schools. It's believed to be caused by a parvovirus.

Symptoms: The hallmark sign is sudden bright red patches on both cheeks -- it looks as though the person has been slapped. The rash may come and go for weeks.

Diagnosis/treatment: Because the infection is viral, there isn't much you can do besides relieve the symptoms. Your child can spread the disease from person to person with the cold-like symptoms that precede the rash, but once the rash appears, she is no longer contagious.


Colds are caused by common viruses and are transmitted from person to person through the air or via hand-to-hand contact. The flu is an acute respiratory infection caused by a virus. It is spread through airborne droplets of respiratory fluids when a person coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms: Cold symptoms include congestion, runny nose, fever, headache, cough, sore throat or fatigue. Signs of the flu are fever, muscle aches and pains, dry cough, runny nose, congestion, headache and fatigue.

Diagnosis/treatment: There is no cure for either, but be sure your child gets plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids. A few days home from school may be in order. There is an influenza vaccine, but it is not recommended for children unless they already have a chronic health problem, such as asthma.


Also known as pink eye, this highly contagious condition is spread by contaminated fingers, wash clothes or towels that touch the eye.

Symptoms: The white part of the eye turns red and gritty. A discharge of yellow pus is also common and a crust may form on the eye at night.

Diagnosis/treatment: Treatment depends on the cause. If a bacterium has caused the infection, your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotic eye drops. If the pink eye is a viral infection, the eye will clear up on its own.

Chicken Pox

Chicken pox is one of the most common and recognized childhood illnesses. It's also very easy to get. Since airborne droplets spread the disease of moisture that contain the varicella-zoster virus, a simple cough can infect dozens.

Symptoms: The first signs of chicken pox appear 10 to 21 days after infection. A red rash of fluid-filled blisters appear. They itch and eventually develop a crust on them.

Diagnosis/treatment: Your doctor will take one look and know its chicken pox. Most mild cases only require treating the symptoms. The Varicella vaccine can prevent chickenpox. Talk to your doctor for more information.

Sick-Day Signs

Deciding whether to send your child to school or let them stay in bed can be a tough call. Here's what the experts say: Keep your child home from school if he has a fever of 100 degrees or higher, vomits or has diarrhea. Also, if he has been diagnosed with the flu or has severe cold symptoms (constant coughing, sneezing, etc), you probably should keep him home so he doesn't spread the illness to others. --Martha Miller

Continued on page 3:  Ready for School


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