Even if we’ve already made all the preparations for the back to school season by now, there’s still something that we need to be ready for: common illnesses that can affect anyone, especially vulnerable kids. Some of the more common sicknesses listed below can spread easily in public areas, especially in a school setting.
It is important that parents and adults educate young children about how back-to-school illnesses can be caught, and what they can do to prevent them from spreading.
Upper respiratory tract infections
Illnesses include common colds and the flu, which are caused by various viruses, including Rhinovirus, adenovirus, coronavirus, influenza virus, and the enteroviruses.
Prevention tip: Viruses that cause this kind of illness are usually airborne, therefore they can easily propagate. The most important way of preventing the spread of these viruses is through proper hand hygiene (washing hands thoroughly with soap or using alcohol-based hand sanitizers). To reduce the chances of their getting these diseases, we should help kids maintain a strong immune system by allowing them to get enough sleep and encouraging them to eat nutritious foods.
Managing the sickness: Kids should be properly hydrated and have enough time to rest. Using anti-fever medications will help alleviate fever and body pains.
Conjunctivitis (pink eye) is highly contagious and can be a result of a viral infection (in most cases) or allergy.
Prevention tip: Make sure that kids wash their hands properly and frequently. They shouldn’t touch their eyes, because the microbes that cause conjunctivitis can easily spread.
Managing the sickness: The viral type of conjunctivitis resolves on its own, even without treatment. If there’s a yellow/green discharge in the eye, it is the bacterial type and can be treated with antibiotic eyedrops or ointment, prescribed by your family doctor.
Strep throat is a highly contagious bacterial infection that causes severe sore throat, a sudden onset of fever, and body pain like headaches or stomachaches.
How it is spread: Since strep throat Is caused by bacteria that can also cause pharyngitis, it can be easily spread through direct contact.
Managing the sickness: Doctors need to test with a swab to know which type of bacteria caused the illness. While strep throat resolves within a few days, taking antibacterial medication is recommended to reduce the risk of other complications such as rheumatic fever. Pain medication like paracetamol can be used to alleviate fever.
Gastroenteritis or stomach infection is caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites affecting the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. This leads to dehydration, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and sometimes fever.
Prevention tip: Gastroenteritis may be caused by food or water contamination, so proper handling and cooking of food as well as sanitation is very important.
Managing the sickness: Stomach infection usually resolves within a week, but if there is recurring pain, vomiting, or blood in the stool, the child should be seen by a doctor. Give kids sips of clear liquids to help them stay hydrated.
Hand, foot, and mouth disease
Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) can affect everyone regardless of their age. Common symptoms include fever, sore throat and mouth ulcers, rashes and small blisters on the palms of hands, soles of feet, and poor appetite.
Prevention tip: HFMD is highly contagious and can spread within the same family. At the moment, there’s no vaccine available so maintaining good hygiene, washing hands frequently and properly, as well as avoiding contact with those infected will reduce the risk of infection.
Managing the sickness: Patients who are recovering require adequate rest and hydration. Since the sickness also causes mouth ulcers, eating popsicles or cold food can help alleviate the pain and keep the patient hydrated as well.
Lice infestation spreads through direct contact with the hair or head of other infected children. Lice feed on blood but cannot burrow into the skin.
Prevention tip: Do not share combs or hairbrush with infected children.
Managing the infestation: There are over-the-counter treatments like topical lotions and shampoos, as well as natural products, but they are not always 100 percent effective. Pediatricians can give prescription medications if the symptoms like visible lice or itching of the scalp persist.
Allergies like allergic rhinitis can appear as an upper respiratory infection, but usually, they don’t involve coughs or nasal stuffiness. Food allergies are also a concern, especially they can trigger a severe immune response.
Managing allergies: For parents and teachers, check if there are places in the classroom that emit dust or any other allergens. If a child has a food allergy, it’s better to bring a packed lunch or inform school authorities of the condition.
While it’s always distressing to see your child unwell, these illnesses are a common part of childhood, and experiencing them actually strengthens the immune system. As parents, we can keep kids healthy by letting them sleep 8-10 hours a day, as well as giving them nutritious foods and getting them all the recommended immunizations. If your child has fever or colds, or is vomiting or suffering from diarrhea, it’s better to keep them at home to recuperate than to risk infecting others. Don’t wait for these symptoms to worsen before going to a doctor.
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