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School Germs and Your Child’s Health

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

In the winter, schools are transformed into hothouses for nasty germs. For the kids cooped up inside, that can mean an onslaught of viruses -- colds, flu, and stomach bugs.

"There's a lot of germ swapping in schools," says Laura A. Jana, MD, a pediatrician and owner of Primrose School of Legacy, a child care center and kindergarten in Omaha, Neb. "You can limit the spread of viruses with good hand washing, but your children are going to get sick sometimes. It's inevitable."

When your child comes home from school feverish and pale, what should you do? Here's some advice on how to help children feel better as they endure a winter's worth of school germs.

Children and Viruses: Stomach Bugs

Of all the nasty things your kids might bring home, stomach bugs are among the worst. While often called "stomach flu," they're unrelated to true influenza and are caused by other viruses.

Try these tips when your child is brought low by a stomach virus.

1. Drink Plenty of Fluids

If children have vomiting and diarrhea, they're losing fluids. Make sure they're drinking to prevent dehydration, says Joel Rosh, MD, director of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition at Goryeb Children’s Hospital in Morristown, N.J. Wait 30 to 60 minutes after they vomit and give them a small amount of fluid. If they can keep that down, give a little more.

It's important to drink slowly, since a large volume of liquid will trigger vomiting. "I recommend frozen Popsicles," says Jana, who is also co-author of Heading Home with Your Newborn and Food Fights . "You can't eat them too fast, and that's especially important with young kids who might want to guzzle." Drinking liquids with a spoon is another way to slow down the intake.

What should your sick child be drinking? Start with clear liquids or oral rehydration solutions for children sold in drug stores. Acidic drinks -- like orange juice -- are not a good idea if your kids are still vomiting. But in general, most liquids -- even milk -- are fine, as long as your children tolerate them.

"Milk gets a bad rap," says Jana. "Parents think that it's hard to digest when their kids are sick to their stomachs, but that's not the case. It's also a good source of protein, fat and calories."

2. Reintroduce Foods Slowly Into Their Diet

Once your children have gone six hours without vomiting, offer them some food. If they're not interested, don't force it. Just try again later.

Start with bland foods, but experts recommend returning to a normal diet within 24 hours if possible.Just keep the portions small -- it's often the volume of the food that upsets the stomach.

Fat in food can also help with diarrhea. Fat takes longer to digest, so it can slow down your child's system. However, continuing to eat a bland, fat-free diet for days on end could prolong diarrhea.

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