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Does School Make Your Kids Sick?

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What's the real deal with germs and school? Why do kids get sick so often and what should you do about it?

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We asked momlogic contributor and pediatrician, Dr. Cara to explain:

"No matter where you live--whether you experience the four seasons of the Northeastern corridor or you live in permanently balmy Los Angeles--there is a cold and flu season. It starts about a month after school, resumes in the fall and it lasts until Spring Break.

"There are many reasons why kids are regularly sick from October through March. Mostly, it has to do with the fact that they are in school together for several hours every day, not just sharing food and drinks but also coughing and sneezing on each other.

"Most of the illnesses they pass around are viruses, which are infections that will go away on their own after five to seven days.

"Most parents send their kids to school before they realize they are sick: that first day of a virus, a child might complain but doesn't look ill. That same day, the virus is passing along to others. Some parents also choose to send their kids to school when they are actively ill. They may do this because there is no one available to stay home with the child during the day, or because the child is concerned about missing school. (The latter reason is fairly common in high school.)

"Regardless of why a sick child goes to school, their attendance means that more kids will get sick.

"The best way for anyone--parent, child or teacher--to avoid catching an infection from someone else is good basic hand washing. Washing your hands before eating keeps germs off of your food and out of your mouth. Washing hands after touching doorknobs, banisters, and desks minimizes the number of germs on your hands. This is not to say that people should become compulsive about hand washing, but certainly before meals and anytime you go to the bathroom, hands should be washed well.

"Toddlers tend to be sick the most often with a virus (cough or runny nose or fever or fussiness) every four to six weeks. This is because toddlers swap spit so often, coming into contact with each other's saliva while sharing toys and play equipment. Even older kids are sick frequently during the cold and flu season, with most catching at least three or four colds.

"You can't stop the world when someone in your house gets sick; it is simply not possible. And the way these things travel, just as one person is on the mend, the next is starting to come down with it. There are times when it feels like there is no break from illness. But in general, if your child has a fever, is coughing frequently, feels exhausted, or looks rundown, it is best to take the day off from school."

To ask Dr. Cara a question, click here.

Dr. Cara Natterson, author of Your Toddler: Head To Toe, is a pediatrician and mother of 2. To buy a copy of her book, click here.


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