Coping with daycare germs 

Children in daycare will learn all about sharing – sharing toys, but also sharing germs.

Daycares are the perfect setting for many small illnesses to grow big and strong for a number of reasons. First, daycares are based around many children staying in close proximity to each other throughout the day, which makes it almost impossible to keep illnesses from spreading. Germs can be spread through something as simple as a toddler touching a contaminated toy then wiping their nose, which is why parents of children in daycare may feel like life is a never ending cycle of runny noses and coughs.

Toddlers also have immature immune systems, which makes them more likely to pick up any illnesses they’re exposed to. As a result, when one child comes down with a bug, there is a very good chance that it will spread throughout their entire class.

Here’s the lowdown on common daycare illnesses, and how you can help reduce the risk of your child becoming sick.

  • The common cold: Colds can be expected many times a year for all children, whether in a daycare setting or not. Symptoms include congestion, coughing, a sore throat, and a mild fever. Colds generally run their course at home and can be treated with rest and fluids, but if you’re concerned that a cold isn’t getting better or is developing into another illness, don’t hesitate to contact your child’s doctor.
  • Influenza and COVID-19: Both the flu and Covid are viruses that can cause a range of symptoms, notably fever and cough. While many cases are mild, the chances of severe illness can be reduced significantly by annual vaccination for the whole family. Fortunately, tests are available for both the flu and Covid, and you can even test for Covid right at home!
  • RSV: Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a viral illness that affects the lungs. Its symptoms typically mirror the common cold and tend to be minor. However, RSV can be serious, and in children with heart or lung diseases and those with compromised immune systems, complications are more likely. Severe coughing and fast or troubled breathing can be signs of RSV. If you notice these symptoms, it’s important to get medical support right away. There is now preventive treatment for RSV babies and high-risk children through your pediatric provider.
  • Gastroenteritis: Also known as the stomach bug, gastroenteritis brings on vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Be sure to keep your child hydrated during gastroenteritis with water or with a drink fortified with electrolytes. When ready to start eating again, it’s no longer recommended to offer the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast) since the nutritional content of these foods is too limited. Instead, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends slowly transitioning back to Baby&;s normal eating patterns. Gastroenteritis typically clears within a few days to a week, but if it comes with a high fever or you’re concerned about dehydration, don’t hesitate to contact your pediatrician.
  • Conjunctivitis: Conjunctivitis, or “pinkeye,” is an inflammation of the tissue lining the eyelids. Telltale signs of this infection are redness and discharge around the eyes and crusty eyes. Conjunctivitis can be treated with eye drops, and your child shouldn’t return to daycare until at least 24 hours after treatment has begun.
  • Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease: This highly contagious illness peaks during the summer and fall. Telltale signs include sores in the mouth and throat, often accompanied by red blisters on the hands and feet.  Symptoms can last 7 to 10 days. Be sure your child stays hydrated, as the pain from the sores can cause children to resist eating or drinking. You can ease symptoms through the use of over-the-counter pain relievers.
Preventing Sickness 

Children are bound to get sick, but you can take measures to reduce your child’s chances of becoming ill. When choosing a daycare, look for the smallest setting possible, and be sure the facility practices frequent sanitizing throughout the day. Ask about the daycare’s sickness policy and what their practice is for caring for children who become sick while in their care. Staying up-to-date on your child’s immunizations, making sure to offer nutritious foods, and getting plenty of rest will boost the chances of fighting off germs. Seeing your child get sick is hard, but fortunately, most viruses transmitted in childcare settings resolve on their own with some extra TLC.

  • Catherine A. Churgay, Zahra Aftab. “Gastorenteritis in Children: Part II Prevention and Management.” American Family Physician. 85(11):1066-1070. Web. June 2012.
  • “Diarrhea in infants.” MedlinePlus. National Library of Medicine, July 7 2016. Web.
  • “Information for schools and chidcare providers.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, May 25 2016. Web.

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