While many kids dread the homework that comes when school starts again, parents tend to have a different worry: school-year illness! It’s no secret that germs spread like wildfire at school, though as kids get older, their stronger immune systems keep the sickness at bay. In the meantime, good handwashing practices can help scrub dangerous pathogens away, and a keen parental eye can spot troubling symptoms before things get serious! To help out, we’ve listed five of the most common illnesses to watch for this school year:
Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)
Conjunctivitis’s key symptom led to its nickname – pink eye – due to the redness and irritation that is a hallmark of this condition. Conjunctivitis can be caused by allergies or by a bacterial or viral infection, and is characterized by intense itching and a watery or yellowish discharge from the eye. A cool compress can help control itching and pain, and many cases clear up on their own – however, antibiotic eye drops may be necessary for severe bacterial infections, and a newborn with the condition should always be seen by a doctor. Unfortunately, conjunctivitis is transmitted easily from person to person, but washing linens and towels used by anyone who has it can help limit the damage within your household.
Getting the flu shot each year is the best way to prevent the spread of this virus, which is common in the fall and winter months. Children and the elderly are most at risk due to their weaker immune systems, though flu can be severe or even fatal at any age. Typically, the first signs of flu will include a high fever, chills, and a sore throat, though weakness, body aches, nausea or vomiting, and a cough may also be present. Your child’s Crittenton physician can prescribe an antiviral medication to decrease symptom severity and prevent others from getting sick.
Strep throat is a bacterial infection that causes a fever and redness and/or white patches in the throat and tonsils. Less common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headaches, or a skin rash. Strep throat is spread easily through saliva and nasal secretions, making it very common among school-aged children, and the symptoms are similar to those of many other illnesses. Luckily, a quick throat swab test can confirm whether strep is present, and set your family back on the path to wellness. While adults tend to have milder symptoms, anyone infected should talk to a doctor about using antibiotics to clear the illness and prevent potentially serious complications.
Meningitis refers to a swelling of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, which can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or even fungus and parasites. Bacterial meningitis is the most common and severe form; as a result, children and adolescents, especially those living in dorms or other communal living situations, are typically given a series of vaccinations to prevent the illness. Initial signs of meningitis include fever, stiff neck, and headache; symptoms can progress quickly to nausea and vomiting, confusion, and, in severe cases, seizures and coma. Parents who suspect their child may have meningitis should seek immediate medical care to avoid serious complications. The good news is, although it is a scary illness, meningitis is still relatively rare, and can generally be treated with antibiotics if caught early.
Nicknamed the “kissing disease” because of its tendency to spread through infected saliva, mononucleosis refers to an infection caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. Many people exposed to the virus will have no symptoms, but others may experience a fever, fatigue, a sore throat, and swelling of the spleen or liver that can be painful. Although mononucleosis generally resolves on its own with at-home care, avoiding high-impact activities while symptoms are present can prevent damage to the spleen and liver. Also, since the signs of mononucleosis are similar to other serious illnesses like influenza, consulting your child’s doctor is the best bet to ensure a quick recovery.
Speak to your Primary Care Physician to learn more about keeping your family healthy and happy during the school year.