Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Children's illness: Top 4 causes of missed school

Since I've been battling the whole sick kid thing over the last several weeks, I thought it might be a nice time to introduce this article found via The Mayo Clinic.  It highlights the top 4 reasons kids miss school as well as offering some preventative measures that can be taken.

via Children's Health

Childhood illness may not affect your family life until your child first starts day care or school. After that, though, it may seem like he or she is sick all the time. This is a normal part of the development of your child's immune system, which must be exposed to many viruses before it develops its own resistance.

Large groups of young children are breeding grounds for all types of germs that cause childhood illness. Little hands rub drippy noses, and then transfer germs to other children or to shared toys. Here's a lineup of the top four infectious illnesses that keep children home from school or child care.

1. Colds

The most common childhood illnesses are upper respiratory infections — colds and other viral ailments that affect the throat, nose and sinuses. While adults average two to four colds a year, children typically have six to 10. Children also tend to have more severe and longer lasting symptoms than do adults.

Studies have shown no benefit to treating children's colds with antihistamines, decongestants or cough suppressants. Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) may be used to alleviate fever caused by colds and other childhood illnesses. Do not give your children aspirin because it may trigger Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal disease.

2. The 'stomach flu' (gastroenteritis)

The second most common childhood illness is gastroenteritis, more commonly known as the stomach flu. This childhood illness causes vomiting and diarrhea, and can lead to dehydration, particularly in very young children. Signs and symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Dry mouth
  • Little or no urine, or dark yellow urine
  • Decreased tears
  • Severe weakness or lethargy

Oral rehydration solutions, such as Pedialyte, can help replace lost fluids, minerals and salts. When you reintroduce food, start with easy-to-digest items — broth, toast, bananas and rice. Avoid dairy products.

Many parents assume that any kind of stomach upset in a child is the result of a contagious illness when the real culprit is simple indigestion or constipation. Some children get stomachaches when they're worried about things, either at home or at school. The dread of facing a bully or of taking a test can make a child's stomach hurt. It's important for a doctor to determine the cause of a child's digestive symptoms before prescribing treatment.

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3. Pink eye (conjunctivitis)

Pink eye (conjunctivitis) is an inflammation of the clear membrane that covers the white part of the eye and lines the inner surface of the eyelids. When caused by viruses or bacteria, conjunctivitis is highly contagious. It is typically treated with antibiotic eyedrops or ointment. Warm or cool compresses may ease your child's discomfort.

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4. Strep throat

If your child has a sore throat and fever, he or she has a 15 percent chance that the condition is strep throat. This infection occurs more often in school-age children and children in child care than in any other age group, child or adult. Some children may carry the infection without showing any symptoms.

For most children, though, strep throat has clear signs and symptoms. Swallowing can be so painful that your child may have difficulty eating. Fevers above 101 F are common. The tonsils and the back of the throat may look red, swollen and dotted with whitish or yellowish patches of pus.

Antibiotics are required to combat strep throat. Left untreated, the body's reaction to the strep bacteria eventually can damage the heart and joints (rheumatic fever), as well as the kidneys (nephritis).

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Sneezes and coughs spray germs into the air. Sometimes the germs infect other people by landing right on them. In other situations, the germs lie on surfaces such as desks, doorknobs and phone receivers. People who touch these surfaces pick up those germs on their fingers. If they then touch their eyes, nose or mouth, the germs gain entry.

The single most important thing your child can do to prevent illness is to wash his or her hands thoroughly and frequently. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people wash their hands with soap and warm water for 15 seconds — about as long as it takes to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can also keep hands clean. They can come in disposable hand wipes or in gel form and require no water.

How long should sick kids stay home?

As a parent, you can help prevent the spread of illness by not sending a sick child to school or child care. Each facility generally has its own rules, but most won't let children attend if they have a fever of more than 100.4 F, are vomiting or have diarrhea. In addition, some facilities require that children with strep throat or pink eye be on antibiotic therapy for 24 hours before returning.

Generally, though, children can return to school when they:

  • Have no fever
  • Can eat and drink normally
  • Are rested and alert enough to pay attention in class
  • Have completed any period of medically recommended isolation

Resistance comes with time

Despite all your best efforts, your child is going to get sick — especially during his or her first few years of contact with larger groups of children. But a child's immunity improves with time. School-age children gradually become less prone to common illnesses, and they recover more quickly from the diseases they do catch.