Burke County School System
Student Health Services
Is Your Child Too Sick for School?
Early in the morning it is often difficult to make decisions about whether or not your child should go to school. With minor symptoms you often cannot tell whether it is going to get better or worse during the course of the day. The main reasons for keeping your child home are:
1. If they are too sick to be comfortable at school.
2. If they might spread a contagious disease to other children.
On the other hand, children who don’t have a fever and only mild cough, runny nose or other cold symptoms can be sent to school without any harm to themselves or others. The following guidelines may help in your decision process:
Runny nose: A runny nose is the way many children respond to pollen, dust or a cold virus. Minor cold or allergy symptoms should not be a reason to miss school. Many healthy children have as many as 10-12 colds per year, especially in the early school years.
Coughing: A cough, especially if it is persistent during the day, can indicate a worsening of cold or allergy symptoms. It may be a sign of a secondary infection (sinusitis, pneumonia) that may require medical treatment. It may also indicate mild asthma. If your child’s cough is worse than you might expect with a common cold, you need to consult your physician. You should do so immediately if the child is not acting right, has a fever, or has any difficulty breathing.
Diarrhea and Vomiting: Diarrhea and vomiting make children very uncomfortable. If diarrhea or vomiting are persistent or are accompanied by fever, rash, or general weakness, consult your doctor and keep the child out of school until the illness passes.
Fever: Fever (generally considered over 100.0 degrees) is an important symptom. Especially when a fever occurs along with sore throat, nausea, or a rash. Your child could have a contagious illness, which could be passed to classmates and teachers. While you can treat the fever and usually make the child feel better temporarily, the cause of the fever and the risk of passing it on to others are still there. Children with fever should stay home until the fever has completely subsided (fever free for 24 hours).
Strep Throat and Scarlet Fever: These are two highly contagious conditions caused by a bacterial infection. They usually arrive with a sudden complaint of sore throat and fever and often stomachache and headache. With scarlet fever, a rash usually appears within 12-48 hours. A child with these symptoms should see the doctor for diagnosis and treatment, and should remain out of school until he is without fever and has been on antibiotics for 24 hours.
Pink Eye or Conjunctivitis: Pink eye can be caused by a virus, bacteria or allergy. Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are very contagious. The eye will be reddened and a cloudy or yellow discharge is present. The eye may be sensitive to light. Consult with your child’s doctor to see if antibiotics are needed. The child may return to school when he/she has been on antibiotics for 24 hours or with a doctor’s permission.
Ear Infections: Ear infections can cause great discomfort and often fever, but are not thought to be contagious to others. The child should see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment and should stay at home if he has pain or fever.
Flu: Flu is a highly contagious virus that usually occurs in the winter months. Symptoms include: body aches, high fever, chills, congestion, sore throat and in some children vomiting. The child should stay at home until these symptoms subside. Consult your child’s doctor for treatment suggestions to make your child comfortable.
Impetigo: Impetigo is a staph or strep infection that creates a red, oozing blister-like rash that appears anywhere on the body or face. It can be passed on to others by contact. Consult your child’s doctor for treatment and length of time the child should remain out of school, especially if the rash cannot be covered.
Chicken Pox: Most school age children have received the varicella vaccine, which should prevent them from getting chicken pox. Chicken pox is a highly contagious viral illness. It causes fever and an itchy rash, which spreads quickly all over the body, changing from red bumps to blister-like lesions that scab. If your child does get chicken pox, he/she will need to stay home until all the bumps are dry and new bumps have not appeared. Your child is contagious at least 2 days before the rash starts, so you need to let the school and playmates know. Consult your doctor for symptomatic treatment.
Mites and Lice: Mites are tiny insects that burrow into the skin and cause severe itching. Lice are tiny parasites similar to ticks that thrive on the warm scalp and also cause itching. Both should be treated immediately with advice from your doctor. Children may return to school following treatment for mites. Children with head lice may return after treatment and there are
no live infestations. Head checks should continue for 10-14 days. Caution your child against sharing combs, brushes, hats or other clothing.
All of these illnesses can be easily spread both in school and in the family. Keep in mind that hand washing is the single most important thing you can do. Teach your child to do this to prevent the spread of infections.
If your child has frequent complaints of pain that cause school absence, school avoidance should be considered. Bring this to the attention of your child’s doctor before a great deal of school has been missed.
Whenever there is doubt in your mind about sending your child to school, consult your child’s doctor before doing so. A phone consultation may be all that is necessary or your doctor may need to see the child in the office. Remember to always make sure that your child’s school knows how to reach you during the day, and that there is a back-up plan for emergency contact persons on file if the school cannot reach you.
Your School Nurse