By Drs. Sally Robinson and Keith Bly

Most children get sick at some point during the school year. In fact, the average school-age child gets from six to nine common colds per year.

Coping with these frequent illnesses is not easy. Sometimes it is difficult for parents to tell if their child is too sick to go to school. And even if the illness is obvious, it can be hard for parents to take off from work, especially in single-parent households or those in which both parents work. As a result, many parents sometimes send their children to school sick, increasing the chances that other children will catch what they have.

But it is extremely important to keep children home if they are sick. Here are some basic guidelines to help you decide whether or not to send your child to school if she is not feeling well:

• A child with a temperature of 100.4 F or higher should be kept at home. They are more than likely contagious if they have fever. 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 most likely have to pick the child up anyway.
• Children who have vomited or had diarrhea in the past 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 should not go to school until he has been treated for 24 hours and all dead lice and eggs have been combed out of his hair.
• Ear infections are not contagious, but they are painful and are often accompanied by fever. Your child should stay at home until the pain and fever subside.
• A child with red, swollen eyes that are draining pus should be kept at home. She 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) should stay home.
• Many of the above illnesses can be prevented by teaching your child not to share food, drinks, brushes, combs or clothing, to cover his mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, to throw away used tissues and to wash his hands frequently for 15 to 30 seconds.

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 infect other children.

Dr. Sally Robinson is a pediatrician in the division of children’s special services at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. She teaches medical students about caring for children with chronic medical conditions. Dr. Keith Bly is a hospitalist and assistant professor of pediatrics at UTMB.

The Your Health column is written by health and medical experts at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The column focuses on topical health issues that we believe are of interest to your readers. It is e-mailed every Tuesday. If you have any questions about the column, or would like to suggest topics, please contact John Koloen, media relations specialist, at (409) 772-8790 or email jskoloen@utmb.edu.