It is that time of year. The weather is dreary and people tend to get sick. We do what we can to prevent illness:
• Proper hand washing
• Getting enough sleep
• Avoiding close contact with sick people
• Taking vitamins and supplements
• Proper nutrition and adequate hydration
• Practicing good hygiene
• Keeping a clean house
• Changing air filters and keeping ducts clean
• Using a humidifier when necessary
• Preventing and remediating mold infestation in the home
• Covering nose and mouth with tissue when sneezing or coughing
• And many more
Despite these noble efforts, people still get sick. And if people have or are around children (especially small children), they are at an even higher risk. Children are veritable Petri dishes for germs. There are many of them in school, in close quarters with each other, often not practicing proper germ prevention. They hug and kiss each other, sometimes share contaminated cups and/or snacks, often do not wash hands after using the restroom (face it, as much as they are told to by parents and teachers, they don’t always do it), cough or sneeze in each other’s faces, etc. It’s really rather disgusting.
And this is referring to relatively healthy children. When a sick child enters the equation, however, because he or she was sent to school instead of kept at home to recover; the odds of spreading germs are much worse. Now, when the sick child coughs or sneezes around other children, he or she is likely spreading harmful pathogens like strep or staph to other kids and their teachers.
Proper Hand Washing is Essential
Most children, sick or well, do not want to take the time out of their busy days of playing and learning to properly wash their hands. You can tell them to wash their hands until they are blue in the face, and they will nod their heads yes, but in the end most of them will just quickly run their hands under water, shake them off, and then run off to another activity.
Researchers from a 2009 experiment applied a clear lotion to the hands of 25 fifth grade children, and examined their hands under a germ-revealing black light after a day of typical hand washing and usage of hand sanitizers at school. At the end of the day, only two children out of the 25 showed evidence of proper hand washing. That’s pretty alarming. These were fifth graders; certainly old enough to know better. Imagine the germs that are spreading around the younger grades, preschools, and daycares.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has extensive information about proper hand washing on their website.
Sending a sick child to school benefits no one.
I understand that many parents work and need to have their children watched and cared for during the workday. I understand that keeping a sick child home from school means usually taking a day off from work, and possibly forfeiting pay to care for them. I understand how this can be difficult.
But the truth is that one sick child puts many people at risk. Think about it. One sick child is in close contact with many other students. He or she is in contact with teachers, aides, other school staff members, and parent volunteers. These people get sneezed or coughed on, or touch a contaminated surface, and then bring the germs home to their own families, who then spread them to everyone and everything they come into contact with. It is a vicious cycle.
Many people mistakenly think that these microorganisms die before they can do too much damage. According to the CDC, “Some viruses and bacteria can live from 20 minutes up to 2 hours or more on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs, and desks.” That’s just on surfaces. Imagine how long they can live on the warm bodies of other children.
Other than the fact that sending a sick child to school exposes others to harmful bacteria and viruses, the sick child is not at home resting. Just being at school is compromising the child’s body’s ability to heal from the infection. Furthermore, a sick child is most likely too uncomfortable from being sick to have the ability to focus and actually learn anything while at school.
So really, sending a sick child to school likely causes the illness to linger longer than it would have if the child was at home resting, being properly cared for, and recovering; which just translates into more sick days.
Follow the guidelines.
Most schools have specific policies regarding which symptoms are okay and which could be contagious. According to Pediatrics Now, these typically include (but are not restricted to):
• Fever over 100 degrees for more than 24 hours
• Rash accompanied by fever or other symptoms
• Productive (accompanied by mucus or phlegm) cough
• Yellow or green nasal discharge
• Diarrhea or vomiting within 24 hours
• Sore throat accompanied by fever or other symptoms
• Earache accompanied by fever or discharge
• Persistent sneezing (not associated with allergies) accompanied by fever or nasal discharge
• Any combination of flu-like symptoms like fever, fatigue, body aches, nausea, diarrhea, congestion, headaches, etc.
If your child exhibits any of these symptoms, please do everyone a favor and keep him or her at home until he or she is recovered (or cleared by a doctor to return to school). If your child is prescribed antibiotics and is told by the doctor to stay home for a specified time until the antibiotic takes effect, please listen.
Keeping sick children home improves the health and safety of the school environment and helps prevent the spread of disease. If you are a parent, please do your part and help break the cycle. Your child, his or her friends, their families, his or her teachers and other school staff members, and their families will all thank you. And of course, if you are the one who is sick, stay home from work. Diseases spread in workplaces too, not just in schools.