Children’s immune systems are less mature than those of adults, so they’re more susceptible to germs. As a result, whenever children are together, there is a chance of spreading infections.
At school, kids are in close contact with each other. This is especially true among infants and toddlers at child care or preschool.
These young children are likely to use their hands to wipe their noses or rub their eyes and then handle toys or touch other children. Then they touch their noses and rub their eyes, so the infection goes from the nose or eyes of one child by way of hands or toys to the next child as the cycle continues.
Viruses responsible for colds or the flu cause the most common sicknesses in child care facilities and schools. Children who have had immunizations still can get other common infectious diseases and ailments such as colds, sore throats, coughs, vomiting and diarrhea.
In fact, most children in child care or school settings have as many as eight to 12 colds a year. Further, diarrheal episodes occur once or twice a year in the typical child.
When a child or another family member has a cold or a cough, important steps in addition to frequent hand washing can lower the risk of spreading an infection to others:
- Encourage your child to cough or sneeze into a tissue or, if a tissue isn’t available, onto the child’s sleeve.
- Discourage your child from covering the mouth with hands while coughing or sneezing because this will leave germs on the hands that can be spread by touching other people or objects. Most often, germs are spread by hands, not through the air.
- Throw away tissues immediately after each use and put them in a nearby wastebasket or other container.
- Once your child is old enough, teach how to blow the nose into a tissue.
- Don’t allow your child to share pacifiers, drinking cups, eating utensils, towels or toothbrushes.
Any child with respiratory symptoms (cough, runny nose or sore throat) and fever should be excluded from child care or kept at home during flu season. The child can return after the fever has resolved without fever-reducing medicines, the child is able to participate in activities and when staff can care for the child without compromising their ability to care for other children in the group.
An annual influenza vaccine is recommended for ages 6 months and older. Children younger than 5, but especially kids younger than 2, are at an increased risk of hospitalization and complications due to influenza.
Because infants younger than 6 months are too young to get a flu vaccine, the best way to protect them is for all family members and caregivers to get the flu vaccine. Protecting everyone around a young child makes it much less likely the that child will be exposed to the virus.