September calls and draws a close to our holiday antics. Bags are packed, lunch boxes are filled and a new pencil case is at the ready.
But are you prepared to send your child back to school? Can you guarantee they will be safe? What if they catch an infection?
We examine parents’ most common fears regarding post-summer ‘school time’ send-offs and how we can make our children as safe as possible from germs in the playground…
How do germs and illness spread amongst school children?
Germs can spread in a variety of ways.
Within the school population itself, germs can be airborne, spread via coughing, sneezing and sitting very close together. The spread of germs can also be via food, skin contact and sharing clothing or school equipment.
If the school has air conditioning, these units harbour a wide variety of bacteria and viruses, waiting to be re-circulated. Ask your school if they are being maintained on a regular basis.
What’s the best way to help my child prevent picking up an illness at school?
Obviously, we cannot avoid children being in close contact with one another during school time and it’s important for children to catch a few coughs and colds to boost their adult immune systems.
We can try to avoid unnecessary illness by encouraging thorough hand washing (get them to sing a song during their hand washing or make it part of a game). Teach children to cover their mouths when they cough and sneeze (followed again by repeated hand washing).
Sharing food will also increase the risk of germ spread. It is good manners for children to learn the importance of sharing, yet sharing food allows bacteria to spread from one child to another with great ease.
It might be a good idea to teach children the importance of sharing food at home and show how to provide meals and snacks for one another, but advise they do not do this during school time.
Discourage sucking/chewing pens or pencils in school or putting items, other than food, in their mouths.
When should I keep my child at home?
How is your child in themselves? If they are playing, as usual, show no signs of fever or risk of spreading infections via coughing or sneezing – allow them to go to school.
If they have a poor appetite, are very tired, have an altered mood to usual and not interested in playing, it would be better to allow them a day or so to rest.
How can I protect and treat my child if there is an outbreak of head lice at school?
Keep your child’s hair tied back, clean and encourage regular brushing. Check your child for head lice weekly and take note of any itching. Itching is usually worse around the ears and nape of the neck.
Encourage children not to share clothes/hair brushes/hair bands or lie on school carpets or floors. Nit combs are available from pharmacies that allow you to look to more closely for head lice and their eggs (nits). Head lice appear as small black insects, whilst nits look like dandruff on the hair shaft but will not come away freely when manipulated.
If your child has head lice, contact your local pharmacist or family doctor for appropriate treatment. You will also need to wash all hair accessories/combs/clothes/hats and bed sheets in water above 30 degrees. Eggs can hatch up to 2 weeks later so the same items would need to be re-washed.
What regular health checks should we insist on for our children?
Whilst your child is under 12, it is worth taking your child at least every year to the GP to check your child’s height, weight and discuss how they are progressing in school and socially at home. If there are any concerns, your doctor will invite you back more regularly to see them.
Eye and dental checks should be carried out every 6 months until the dentist and optician feel growth is stable and will put checkups back to every 12 months.
After this, as long as the child is performing well at school, has no psychological issues or concerns, you can treat them as an adult – coming to the GP as and when is needed. Have a low threshold, however, for bringing them to the doctor with any concerns.
Do not forget to bring your teenager for their HPV and booster vaccines from the age of 12/13 and for any pre-university or travel vaccinations. Discuss with your family physician regarding your child’s immunisation schedule.
It is very common for children who start school to catch a variety of viral infections in their first few years. This is an important part of building up their immune systems. Sadly, in countries like the UK, there is a very large international pool of germs which can pose more of a risk.
If you have any doubts regarding your child’s health do not hesitate to contact your family doctor, paediatrician or visit one of our private doctors. Children can be very good at masking their illnesses.
This post was written by Dr Jenna Burton, a Pall Mall Medical expert.