by Becky L. Spivey, M.Ed.
As children return to or enter school for the first time, parents should remember that they sometimes
bring home more than just school books. Parasites, viruses, and other communicable diseases pass easily from
child to child in schools and on playgrounds and end up in your home. Teach children to protect themselves and
avoid spreading illnesses to others by following these simple rules:
- Wash your hands before eating and after toileting.
- Keep your hands out of your mouth and nose.
- Do not exchange clothing items, combs, or hairbrushes with others.
- Do not share eating and drinking utensils with others.
Some children with disabilities may not tell you or know exactly how to express how they are feeling
or what it is that is bothering them. A parent’s watchful eye is necessary. Any out-of-the-ordinary behavior
could be a red flag. Monitor your child’s health closely.
The following illnesses are very common communicable diseases exposed to
children in schools. Consult your physician or pharmacist for more information regarding
incubation times for these different illnesses and before administering over-the-counter
medications, especially those that may contain aspirin.
Chicken Pox – This virus causes itchy blisters and fever. Calamine lotion and
oatmeal baths can help with the itching. Consult your physician or pharmacist about
medications to administer for fever. If fever lasts longer than four days, or if the blisters seem
to be infected, take the child to his/her doctor.
Common Cold – There are more than 20 different viruses that cause sneezing, coughing, and
a runny nose. Give your child plenty of fluids and rest. Your pharmacist can recommend over-thecounter
medicines to relieve some of the symptoms.
Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis) – Pink eye can be bacterial or viral and causes the eye(s) to become
red and itchy. Sometimes there is a thick, yellowish discharge, tearing, and even blurred vision. Pink
eye is highly contagious. Take your child to his/her doctor for prescribed eye drops and keep him/her at home for
treatment. Wash hands thoroughly before and after administering the eye drops.
Fifth Disease – This infection causes a mild rash or redness on the arms and legs and may cause fever or
a cold right before the rash begins. Usually the child can recover on his/her own because it is a mild infection.
Consult your doctor to verify that the rash is indeed Fifth Disease.
Influenza (Flu) – This virus causes fever, body aches, stomach symptoms (especially in children) and
tiredness. The child should get plenty of rest and fluids. Consult your physician or pharmacist about non-aspirin
medications for the fever and body aches. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends a yearly flu vaccine
for all children 6 months of age and older (as soon as the vaccine becomes available).
Hand, Mouth and Foot Disease – This virus causes fever, sores in the mouth, and a rash of blisters on
palms of the hands and/or soles of the feet. Consult your physician or pharmacist about giving the child nonaspirin
medications for the aches and fever. Keep your child home from school and others because contact with
the blisters will spread the infection quickly.
Head Lice – These tiny parasites attach to the scalp and hair shafts and cause itching. Eggs hatch within
a week and mature within seven days. Over the counter or prescription treatments are available to kill and
remove lice. You also must treat your house by vacuuming several times (seal and throw away the vacuum’s
contents) and washing all clothing and bedding in very hot water. Place all stuffed animals and comforters in
tightly-sealed plastic bags for a minimum of two weeks. Shampooing alone will not get rid of lice.
Hepatitis A – This highly contagious virus causes a child to be tired, lose his/her appetite, have a fever,
diarrhea, and nausea. There is no treatment except proper nutrition. Take your child to the doctor if you suspect
Hepatitis A. The doctor will know what to prescribe. There is a vaccine to help prevent this virus.
Measles – This highly contagious virus can be as simple as a rash accompanied by a low fever, but it
can evolve into a high fever with a respiratory infection and become very serious quickly. Take your child to
the doctor if you suspect measles. Keep the child away from anyone not immunized against measles. There is a
vaccine to prevent measles.
Meningitis – This can be a bacterial or viral infection that affects the spinal cord and fluid surrounding
the brain. Symptoms include high fever, stiff neck, and headache. Seek medical attention immediately if
you suspect meningitis. Do not try to determine which type your child has. Doctors can treat viral meningitis
fairly easily, but if a doctor suspects bacterial meningitis, he/she usually performs a spinal tap to determine an
immediate course of treatment.
Mumps – This virus causes fever, body aches, muscle aches, loss of appetite, and swelling of the salivary
glands. If you suspect mumps, take your child to his/her doctor because it is no longer a common virus. There is a
vaccine to prevent mumps.
Whooping Cough (Pertussis) – This highly contagious disease causes
coughing attacks so severe, they will induce vomiting. See your doctor if the child
has been exposed to someone with whooping cough. Antibiotics can shorten
Ringworm – This fungus causes a ring-shaped rash on the skin and/or scalp
that is usually dry and scaly. Over-the-counter lotions and sprays are available to
treat ringworm, but after two weeks if they become redder or swollen, take the
child to a doctor.
Rotavirus – This virus causes vomiting, severe diarrhea, and fever and last
a few days. The child needs plenty of rest and fluids to avoid dehydration. Consult
Scabies – These small parasites infest the skin, causing pimple-like irritation and intense itching. Take
your child to his/her doctor for special lotions. Wash (in very hot water) all bedding and clothing worn up to two
days before treatment actually began.