By Sally Robinson

Most children get sick at some point during the school year. In fact, the average school-age child gets about 6 to 9 common colds per year. Many parents sometimes send their children to school sick and other children catch what they have.

Sometimes it is difficult for parents to tell if their child is too sick to go to school. It can also be hard for parents take off work, especially in single-parent households or families in which both parents work.
But it is extremely important to keep children home if they are sick because they can expose other children to whatever they have.

Here are some basic guidelines to help you decide whether or not to send your child to school if he or she is not feeling well:

• A child with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher should be kept at home. They are more than likely contagious if they have fever. Please do not give your child medicine to reduce their fever and send them to school. The medicine will wear off, the fever will come back and you will more than likely have to pick them up anyway.

• Children who have vomited or had diarrhea in the last 24 hours should not be sent to school.

• Bacterial diseases, such as strep, should be treated with antibiotics for 24 hours before your child returns to school.

• If your child has had lice, he or she should not go to school until they have been treated for 24 hours and all dead lice and eggs have been combed out of their hair.

• Ear infections are not contagious, but are painful and are often accompanied by fever. Your child should stay at home until the pain and fever go away.

• A child with red, swollen eyes that are draining pus should be kept at home. They may have pink eye, which can be highly contagious. Your child may need medicine to clear up this infection in severe cases.

• A child with an unexplained rash, ringworm (a fungal infection of the skin), or impetigo (a bacterial infection in which red, itchy blisters appear on the skin)

Many of the above illnesses can be prevented by teaching your child not to share food, drinks, brushes, combs, or clothing, to cover mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and throw away used tissues, and to wash their hands for 15 to 30 seconds — frequently.

Be sure to keep your child’s school informed of current telephone numbers in case your child becomes ill or injured. School is important, but sick children need to be at home so that they can rest and so that they do not cause other children to become ill.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.