Knowing whether a child is well enough to go to school can be tough for any parent. It often comes down to whether a child can still participate at school.
Never send a child to school who has a fever, is nauseated or vomiting, or has diarrhea. Kids who lose their appetite, are lethargic, complain of pain, or who just don't seem like themselves should also take a sick day. If your child will need more care than the teacher can provide, it's only fair to the other kids that your child stay home.
When in doubt, check in first. Most schools have rules about when to keep kids home.
For example, kids with strep throat need a dose or two of antibiotics first, which can mean staying home the day after diagnosis (or possibly longer).
Fever with no other symptoms usually isn't reason enough for a child to stay home. But many schools or childcare centers request that a child not return until at least 24 hours after a fever has broken naturally (without fever-reducing medicines).
Chickenpox sores should be dry and crusted over before kids go back to school (usually this takes about 6 days). Other contagious infections - like rubella, whooping cough, mumps, measles, and hepatitis A have specific guidelines for returning to school. Your doctor can help you figure this out.
Lice, scabies, and ringworm shouldn't keep kids out of school. If the problem is found by the teacher or school nurse, the child should stay in school until the end of the day. Kids who get their first treatment after school should be able to return to the classroom the next morning.
Kids with colds, coughs, or pinkeye can go to school if they feel well enough, don't have a fever, and don't need so much care that they will burden the teachers. Some schools or childcare centers require time at home or a doctor's note for pinkeye, so ask about their policies.
How about the Flu?
Influenza (also known as flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. Flu is different from a cold, and usually comes on suddenly. Each year flu viruses cause millions of illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospital stays and thousands or tens of thousands of deaths in the United States. Flu can be very dangerous for children. Flu viruses are thought to spread mainly by droplets made when someone with flu coughs, sneezes or talks. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. A person also can get flu by touching something that has flu virus on it and then touching their mouth, eyes, or nose.
Flu symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, feeling tired and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children than adults). Some people with the flu will not have a fever.
How can I protect my child from flu?
The first and best way to protect against flu is to get a yearly flu vaccine for yourself and your child.
- Flu vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months and older every year.
- It’s especially important that young children and children with certain long-term health problems get vaccinated.
- Caregivers of children at high risk of flu complications should get a flu vaccine. (Babies younger than 6 months are at high risk for serious flu complications, but too young to get a flu vaccine.)
- Pregnant women should get a flu vaccine to protect to protect themselves and their baby from flu. Research shows that flu vaccination protects the baby from flu for several months after birth.
- Flu viruses are constantly changing and so flu vaccines are updated often to protect against the flu viruses that research indicates are most likely to cause illness during the upcoming flu season.
Can my child go to school, day care, or camp if he or she is sick?
No. Your child should stay home to rest and to avoid giving the flu to other children or caregivers. People with flu may be able to infect others from 1 day before getting sick to up to 5 to 7 days after. Severely ill people or young children may be able to spread the flu longer, especially if they still have symptoms.
Most important, go with your gut. You know your kids best. If your son has the sniffles but hasn't slowed down at home, chances are he's well enough for the classroom. But, if he's been coughing all night and has a hard time getting up in the morning, he might need to take it easy at home.
Information from KidsHealth and the Centers for Disease Control. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.