During flu season, parents do their best to keep kids healthy, but sometimes even the most vigilant preventive measures can’t stand up to the flu.
Preventing the spread of flu in schools is critical to keeping everyone as healthy as possible. Healthcare professionals recommend that sick children stay home until they're recovered enough to go back to school, typically about 24 hours after symptoms improve. This helps not only to protect the child's health, but also to prevent the spread of the virus to other children.
Determining whether your child is well enough to go to school can be tricky. Consider the following signs as you make your decision.
If your child has a temperature of 99.5 degrees F or more, it's best to keep him or her home. A fever is a sign that the body is fighting off infection, which means your child is vulnerable, and can also spread the virus to others. Wait at least 24 hours after the fever has come down and stabilized without medication to consider sending your child back to school.
Vomiting and Diarrhea
Vomiting and diarrhea are good reasons for your child to stay home. These symptoms are too difficult to deal with at school, and are signs that the child is still capable of spreading the infection. Wait at least 24 hours after the last episode before considering a return to school.
If your little one is falling asleep at the table or acting particularly fatigued, he or she is unlikely to benefit from sitting in class all day. Make sure your child stays hydrated and let him or her rest.
Persistent Cough or Sore Throat
A persistent cough is likely to be disruptive in class, and is one of the primary ways of spreading a flu infection. If your child has a severe sore throat and a regular or persistent cough, keep him or her home until the cough is nearly gone or easily controlled.
Red, Runny Eyes or Rashes
Red, runny eyes can distract a child from learning and can be difficult to manage in class. A rash can be a sign of another infection, or a reaction to the flu virus. Keep your child home until these symptoms clear up, or until you've checked with the doctor about them.
Appearance and Attitude
Does your child look pale or tired? Does he or she act irritable or seem disinterested in regular daily activities? Are you having a hard time getting your child to eat anything? These are all signs that more recovery time is needed at home.
Earaches, bellyaches, headaches, body aches, mouth sores, and other types of pain are signals that your child is still in the middle of the flu period. He or she will be contagious to other children and won’t gain anything from being in school. Keep your child home until the pain has disappeared.
In addition to these signals, ask your child's school nurse to weigh in. Most schools have general guidelines for when it's safe to send your child back to school after being sick, and will be happy to share these with you. They may also be available online.
How to Manage a Sick Day
If you decide that your child definitely needs to stay home, you may face many additional challenges. Do you have to take a sick day? If you're a stay-at-home mom, how can you balance caring for your other kids when one child is sick?
Talk to Your Employer Ahead of Time
Discuss possibilities with your employer as flu season approaches. For example, ask about working from home and attending meetings over the phone or the Internet. Make sure you have the equipment you need at home: a computer, high-speed Internet connection, fax machine, and printer may make it easier for you to manage at-home work tasks.
Ask About Your Options
Can you take a day without using up your sick time? Find out how many sick days you have so you can balance your time off. Can you buy extra sick days, for instance, if you need them? Also, consider trading off at-home duties with your spouse if you both work.
Have a Back-Up Plan
Do you have a family member or friend who would be willing to stay with your child? Is there a childcare provider who could safely watch your child without having to subject other children to the virus?
Designate a shelf or cupboard to over-the-counter medications, vapor rubs, extra tissues, and antibacterial wipes so you're ready for flu season. Keeping these items in one place can also help if you have someone coming to your house to care for your child.
Be Diligent About Hand-Washing
Try to keep your sick child away from those who are well, without isolating him or her. Teach well children to stay at least six feet away from the sick child, and to wash their hands frequently. Make sure everyone drinks plenty of fluids and gets plenty of rest.
When It's Safe to Send Your Child Back to School
It may be easier to determine when your child is too sick to go to school than to make the call about when he or she is ready to go back. Sending your child back too soon can delay his or her recovery and subject other children to the virus as well.
Below are some guidelines that may help.
Once the fever has been controlled for over 24 hours without medication, the child is usually safe to return to school—as long he or she isn't suffering from other, more serious symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, or a persistent cough.
The student may return to school:
- after taking medication your doctor prescribed for a minimum of 24 hours
- as long as they don't have a fever or other serious symptoms
Attitude and Appearance Improve
If the child looks and acts like he or she is feeling much better or is starting to act restless at home, he or she is safe for school.
Only a Runny Nose
If your child is experiencing only a runny nose and mild or no symptoms, he or she is probably ready to return to school. Just be sure to provide tissues and remind him or her about not spreading germs. Provide your child’s teacher with over-the-counter medications to help control the remaining symptoms.
You know your child best. Does he or she look too miserable to go to school? Is your child happy to curl up in a chair with a blanket, or is he or she bouncing around and playing? Trust your intuition to make the best decision.