Starting school is an exciting step for kids, but it can also introduce them (and the family) to a whole new round of contagious illnesses and bugs. We asked GP Dr Elysia Thornton-Benko about what parents should remember as their child heads off to school.
Listen to Elysia on Kinderling:
Varicella, or chicken pox, is a contagious skin infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It’s less common today due to immunisations and in most cases when children are healthy, it’s a mild disease lasting only a short time. It can be a very serious illness for some children and adults however, hence the need for vaccination and appropriate quarantine if the illness is contracted. Look out for a rash of red itchy spots on your child’s skin, which will then blister and turn into scabs.
- Kids should stay home from daycare and school while they have the spots.
- Tell your child’s school, as they need to trace the source and notify the wider community. This helps alert other parents and controls the spread of the virus.
Head lice (nits)
Head lice are small bugs about the size of a sesame seed that live in human hair, feeding on blood from the scalp by biting the skin. The eggs of the live lice are called 'nits', which lend their name to the childhood bug that every parent dreads. Nits can make the head very itchy and the small bugs are highly contagious, but don’t cause terrible illness.
- Nits spread easily at school, just like at preschool and daycare.
- Avoid them by pulling longer hair back because lice crawl from hair fibre to hair fibre. (Contrary to popular belief, they do not jump or fly!)
- Catch and treat nits early. At the first sign of itchiness, look at the hair behind the ears, on the neck and through the scalp. Look for tiny white eggs attached to hair follicles, and if they’ve already hatched, you’ll see tiny crawling bugs too.
- To treat, you can buy an over-the-counter product from the chemist to kill all lice. Remove the little eggs with a nit comb, then repeat seven days later for best results.
School sores (impetigo)
Impetigo is a localised infection of the skin and is highly contagious. It may cause your child’s skin to be red, pimply and itchy to start, with little moist blisters developing that may burst. It can spread easily in both a family and school environment because kids are so affectionate and active around friends and family.
- If it’s red and spreading, then it most likely needs an antibiotic from a GP.
- Check your child’s school health guidelines around contagious illnesses, but a good general rule is to ensure that impetigo is completely healed or covered before returning your child to school.
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