When Is My Child Too Sick for School?

Before sending him, ask yourself if others might be effected, too

It’s understandable that you might feel conflicted when your child whines, “I don’t feel good.” Children are constantly coming down with illnesses big and small — a runny nose, a sore throat, a tummy ache. It can be hard to know when your child is actually too sick for school. But the stakes can be high — for your student as well as his classmates.

The repercussions of sending a contagious child to school were recently illustrated in a highly publicized incident when a stomach virus swept through an elementary school in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, sending more than 300 stricken students home in a single day. It was later determined the children were infected with a norovirus, a highly contagious stomach bug that causes severe vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramping. Special maintenance crews had to be sent in to sanitize the school in an effort to stop the spread of the bug.

At the core of the incident was the kind of decision that must be made every day at schools across the country. As parents, we gauge how sick child our child is, at times unwittingly risking a virus that can spread through a school like wildfire.

With the flu season upon us, chances are you’ll eventually face the question of what to do about a child who is feeling under the weather. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises the following.


Keep your child home if:

•     He has a fever of 100.5 or higher. Fever indicates your child is fighting infection. Although fevers can be controlled by over-the-counter meds, wait until your child is fever-free naturally before letting him return to school.

•     He has diarrhea. This often signals an infection or virus that could be contagious. Make sure your child stays home and drinks plenty of fluids.

•     He has vomited more than twice in 24 hours. Hydration is important here, too, but only offer only a few small sips of liquid at a time.

•     He has developed a rash. Mild rashes may be harmless, but more serious eruptions merit the review of your pediatrician. Rashes can be the sign of contagious conditions such as chickenpox or impetigo.  

•     He has a severe cough or cold symptoms. Each cough or sneeze spreads germs. Mild cold or respiratory symptoms (when nasal drainage is clear and the cough is mild) might be manageable.

•     If your child is 6 months or older, get the flu vaccine. Include all family members.


Practice healthy habits to avoid the spread of germs

•     Wash hands often with soap and water or use hand sanitizers.
•     Avoid putting hands into eyes or mouth to spread germs.
•     Cough or sneeze into the crook of your arm or elbow instead of your hands.
•     Stay away from people who are sick.


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