When the first sign of an illness (like the flu or a stomach bug) enters your house, it can feel like a race against time to stop the illness from spreading to your whole family. We all know the chaos that follows – sleepless nights and missed days at school and work.
All this can leave you wondering whether sending your healthy children to school when another is unwell is safe. Should the healthy siblings stay home or go to school? And when is it OK for your sick child to return to school?
Devin Minior, MD, chief medical officer for Banner Urgent Care, answers these questions and shares tips for keeping your family as healthy as possible.
Should I send my healthy kid(s) to school when their sibling is sick?
You might worry that if one child is sick, it is only a matter of time before the illness spreads to other family members. The truth is: with a few easy steps, that may not happen.
“As long as you and your child are not showing symptoms and wash your hands regularly, you can generally go to school and work,” said Dr. Minior.
Even so, some daycare centers might have different policies to protect small children, whose immune systems are still growing.
“Some daycares may require even asymptomatic (no symptoms) siblings to stay home, so check their rules,” Dr. Minior advised. “Occasionally, they recommend that siblings of a child with gastrointestinal (stomach) issues, like persistent diarrhea and vomiting, should stay home from daycare.”
When is it safe to send my sick child back to school?
If your child has a fever of 101°F (38.33°C) or higher, a strong cough, vomiting, diarrhea or seems very sick, they should stay home and away from others. It’s also best to keep them home – even with milder symptoms – if they have highly contagious illnesses like the common cold or pink eye.
Your child can return to school after 24 hours of being fever-free and without symptoms. “Once they are back to their usual selves – eating, drinking and playing normally – it is reasonable to send them back to school,” Dr. Minior said.
If you are unsure whether to keep your child home, contact your child’s health care provider or pediatrician for guidance.
Don’t throw in the towel: Tips to prevent the spread
The best way to fight illness at home is through prevention. Here are some tips to fend off unwanted germs, balance work/home life and maintain your sanity and keep your family healthy.
Wash your hands
Hand washing is one of the simplest and best ways to stop the spread of germs. Nearly 80% of infectious diseases are spread through touch.
Encourage family members, especially your children, to wash their hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Regularly clean and disinfect surfaces
Frequently disinfect commonly-touched surfaces like door handles, light switches and shared electronic devices. Clean anything your sick child has touched, like iPads and toilets.
If your child is old enough, get them involve them in the disinfection process.
Keep sick children separated
When one child is unwell, try to keep them away from other family members as much as possible. Choose a separate “get well room” for the child to rest in until they are symptom-free and limit contact with other siblings.
Avoid sharing personal items
Teach your children not to share personal items like utensils, cups, towels or toothpaste, especially when one of them is sick. Shared toys and stuffed animals should also be cleaned if a child gets sick. This practice can help minimize the spread of germs within the family.
Cover coughs and sneezes the right way
Teach your children to cover their mouths and noses with a tissue or elbows when coughing or sneezing, followed by washing their hands. This simple practice can help limit the spread of germs.
Balance childcare and work
Managing childcare when one child is sick and another is healthy can be challenging.
Make a sick childcare plan before the start of the school year – and review it at least once a year. The plan may include who can take care of your kids while you’re at work, or taking turns with a partner to care for sick children. Now is also the time to understand your employer’s caregiver policies, including if you can work from home.
Boost immunity with a healthy lifestyle
Make sure your family gets enough sleep and rest as possible, eats a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables and gets plenty of exercise.
Keep yourself updated on flu season and other illnesses going around with information from reliable sources, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and your local health department. You can also call your health care provider for information if you think certain illnesses are on the rise. Understanding the current health situation can help you make informed decisions for your family.
When one child is sick, it can seem like it’s only a matter of time before everyone in your household gets sick, too. However, with a few easy steps, the rest of your family can keep going to work and school as long as they are symptom-free.
Taking precautions and being prepared for missed work and school can make a significant difference. When your child shows signs of illness, make an appointment with their health care provider so they can get back to being healthy as soon as possible.
If you have questions, you can find a Banner Health specialist near you.