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How to determine which illnesses should keep your children home – and for how long

 How to determine which illnesses should keep your children home   and for how long

Many parents have a hard time deciding if their kids are wellenough to go to school. What well-intentioned parent hasn’t sent achild off with tissues in hand, only to get that mid-morning “comeget your child” phone call?

But making the right decision isn’t as tough as you might think.It basically boils down to one question: is my child contagious?Infections like pinkeye or strep throat usually necessitate a dayhome with appropriate treatment because they are highly contagious.most day cares and schools won’t let kids return until after afever has broken naturally (without fever-reducing medicines) forat least 24 hours.

So what infections should parents be concerned about as kidshead back to school? says these are the top fiveillnesses parents should look out for during the school year.

Strep throat

Strep throat is a bacterial infection that can cause sorethroat, headache and fever. With treatment, symptoms improvequickly. If left untreated, strep throat can lead tocomplications.

Is it contagious? Yes. It’s caused by group A streptococcusbacteria infecting the back of the throat and tonsils.

How does it spread? Strep throat is spread from person toperson, through close contact, unwashed hands and airborne dropletsfrom sneezing and coughing. Anybody can get strep throat, but it’smost common in school-age kids and teens. Infections can occur evenafter tonsils have been removed.

When do symptoms go away? Usually within two days of startingantibiotic treatment.

Prevention: to prevent its spread, keep your child’s eatingutensils separate and wash them in hot soapy water, avoid sharingfood or drinks, encourage frequent hand washing, and teach kids tocough or sneeze into their shirtsleeve and not their hands.

Going back to school, work or play: Wait until at least 24 hoursafter beginning antibiotics to resume activities.


Conjunctivitis, or pinkeye, is an inflammation of theconjunctiva, the clear membrane covering the white part of the eyeand the inner surface of the eyelids. It can be caused by aninfection or by exposure to chemicals or other irritants.

Is it contagious? Yes. Conjunctivitis is contagious when causedby viruses (as in most cases) or bacteria, but not when caused byallergies or irritants (like air pollution or swimming poolchemicals).

How does it spread? Conjunctivitis caused by bacteria or a viruscan be spread through contact with the infected person’s secretionsor by touching something the person has touched (like a towel orwashcloth). Children may spread it from one eye to the otherthrough touching. Noninfectious conjunctivitis, such as that causedby an allergy, is not spread person to person.

When do symptoms go away? Usually two to three days aftertreatment has begun for bacterial conjunctivitis, and about one totwo weeks for viral conjunctivitis. for noninfectiousconjunctivitis, it depends on when the irritant or other cause isremoved and, if necessary, treated.

Prevention: Kids should wash their hands often with warm waterand soap and avoid sharing eye drops, makeup, pillowcases,washcloths and towels. for allergic conjunctivitis, keep windowsand doors closed on days when the pollen count is high, and dustand vacuum frequently to limit allergy triggers.

Going back to school, work or play: Viral conjunctivitis: oncetearing and discharge are gone (about a week).

Bacterial conjunctivitis: at least 24 hours after startingtreatment.

Head lice

Head lice infestation is one of the most common contagiousdiseases in North America. It can be successfully treated and isnot serious.

Is it contagious? Yes. Lice are common among kids ages 3 to 12(girls more often than boys). However, anyone can get lice, and itis not a sign of poor hygiene. Lice do not spread disease.

How does it spread? Lice have claws that allow them to crawl andcling firmly to hair. they spread mainly through head-to-headcontact, but sharing clothing, bed linens, combs, brushes and hatscan sometimes help pass them along. Lice can spread quickly atschools, childcare centers, slumber parties, sports activities,camps and at home, so all bedmates, infested family members andclose contacts should be treated as well.

When do symptoms go away? Medicated treatments usually kill thelice and eggs (called nits), but it may take a few days for theitching to stop.

Prevention: Discourage head-to-head contact at school (in gym,on the playground or during sports) and while playing at home withother children. Discourage sharing combs, brushes, hats, hairaccessories, towels or helmets with others. Every three to fourdays, examine members of your household who have had close contactwith someone with lice. Only those with lice infestation requiretreatment.

Going back to school, work or play: Kids with active lice mayreturn to school after the first treatment.

Molluscum contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum is a common childhood viral skininfection. It usually resolves without treatment in six to 12months, though sometimes can take longer.

Is it contagious? Yes. The molluscum contagiosum virus (MCV), amember of the poxvirus family, causes this mild skin infection.

How does it spread? through skin-to-skin contact with the virus,or by touching bath towels and clothes of those infected. Molluscumcontagiosum can easily spread from one part of the body to anotherwhen a person rubs or scratches the bumps and then touches anotherpart of the body.

When do symptoms go away? six to 12 months (sometimes as long asfour years) for all bumps to go away completely.

Prevention: Ensure kids wash their hands often. Discouragesharing of towels, clothing and other personal items.

Going back to school, work or play: Kids can continue activitiesas long they are receiving treatment and bumps not concealed byclothes are covered.

Walking pneumonia

Walking pneumonia is the leading cause of pneumonia inschool-age kids and young adults. The main symptom is a bothersomeand prolonged cough.

Is it contagious? Yes. This milder form of pneumonia is causedby Mycoplasma pneumoniae, a type of bacteria. Walking pneumoniausually develops gradually and can be successfully treated withantibiotics.

How does it spread? Walking pneumonia is spread throughperson-to-person contact or by breathing in particles spreadthrough the air by sneezing or coughing. It is most common inschool-age and older kids, but it’s occasionally seen in thoseyounger than 5.

When do symptoms go away? Usually three to four weeks, butantibiotic treatment may speed the recovery.

Prevention: Encourage kids to wash their hands thoroughly andregularly.

Going back to school, work or play: Kids can resume activitiesafter 24 hours of treatment if they feel well enough.

Health information provided by Nemours’

How to determine which illnesses should keep your children home – and for how long

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