Children share more than just a classroom at school
School-aged children spend several hours per day in the classroom in close proximity to one another. That proximity means that, in addition to sharing their time in the classroom, students often share their illnesses.
Many parents understand that kids may come home from school with more than just homework. Communicable diseases and parasites may accompany kids home, and while every sniffle or fever cannot be prevented, there are ways parents can reduce their child’s risk of coming home from school with an ailment passed on by a classmate. The first step toward reducing that risk is understanding some of the more common ailments.
Few children survive school without enduring at least one outbreak of lice. Lice are tiny parasites that feed on the blood of their hosts. Head lice are about two to three millimeters in length (about the size of a sesame seed). A female louse can produce between seven and 10 eggs, known as nits, per day. The nits will hatch and repeat the process of the adults.
Having lice is not an indication of poor hygiene. It just means you have come into contact with someone with lice and have contracted the parasite. Sharing brushes, pillows, hats, and head-to-head contact with someone who has lice facilitates transmission.
Many old wives’ tales discuss how to keep lice from getting into the hair. None of these methods are necessarily effective. Should lice climb aboard, it is essential to remove all of the nits and adult lice through careful combing and to reduce the numbers of lice until they die off. In extreme cases, a doctor may recommend a medicated shampoo.
The Mayo Clinic says infectious mononucleosis, commonly shortened to “mono,” is known as the kissing disease. Epstein-Barr virus, the virus that causes mono, is transmitted through saliva. It can be spread through kissing, but also by sharing cups and straws or if saliva is expelled through sneezing or coughing.
Symptoms of mono include fatigue, sore throat, fever, swollen lymph nodes, and a soft, swollen spleen. Mono is not often serious and is even less communicable than the common cold. However, it is adviseable to keep a child home from school until symptoms have subsided. There is no specific method to treat mono, but doctors may suggest a combination of bed rest, pain relievers and drinking plenty of water and fruit juices.
There is a lot of confusion about herpes circulating because two similar viruses are commonly mistaken for each other. Most of the cases of oral herpes result from the virus herpes simplex 1, or HSV-1.
According to the organization Herpes Online, the oral outbreak of herpes forms cold sores or fever blisters on the lips or inside of the mouth. While these blisters -- and the HSV-1 virus itself -- can be spread through kissing, most young children are diagnosed with oral herpes after they have contracted it through the sharing of utensils. Sometimes parents inadvertently pass herpes on to their kids when they kiss them goodnight.
Generally speaking, oral herpes is most contagious when a lesion or blister is present. When scabs have healed and there is no other symptom of the condition, then a person is much less likely to pass the virus to someone else. When a blister is present, the affected person should wash his or her hands frequently and avoid touching the lesion.
A child will get strep throat when he or she comes in direct contact with saliva or fluids from the nose of an affected person, says the National Institutes of Health. Strep throat is usually caused by group A streptococcus bacteria. It is most common in children between the ages of five and 15.
Once a person comes in contact with the bacteria, he or she may begin to feel sick two to five days later. Chills, a sore throat, trouble moving the neck, and difficulty swallowing are some of the more common symptoms.
Because strep can mimic a viral sore throat, most doctors will take a throat culture to confirm diagnosis. Should the bacteria be present, antibiotics will be prescribed for treatment. A doctor will advise when it is safe for a child to return to school.
Meningitis is the inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, known as the meninges. There are five types of meningitis: bacterial, viral, parasitic, fungal, and noninfectious. The severity of the illness and the treatment depends on the cause. The most widely known types of meningitis are bacterial and viral. Both are contagious, but bacterial meningitis can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.
Meningitis can be spread through exchange of respiratory and throat secretions. People who have viral meningitis find it is a less severe form and does not become serious so long as their immune system remains strong.
Symptoms of a meningitis infection may include a sudden onset of fever, headache and stiff neck. Nausea, vomiting and altered mental status are also symptoms. Samples of blood or cerebrospinal fluid are collected to test for the cause of the meningitis to begin prompt treatment.
Spending time in close proximity with other students increases the spread of communicable diseases among students. Knowing the symptoms of various communicable diseases can help parents quickly recognize an ailment.