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Ask the School Nurse: Parents' Top 9 Questions for Back to School

Worried about flu? Stress? Colds? Our school health expert answers your questions about keeping children healthy.


It's important to teach kids to wash their hands before eating and after playing outside and using the restroom. Hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent illness. If parents enforce that at home, we'll reinforce it at school. Talk to your kids about covering their mouths with a tissue when they cough and sneeze, and send them to school with a bottle of antiviral hand gel and instructions to use it often. Also, the CDC recommends the flu vaccine for kids ages 6 months and older. 

4. Can I send my child to school if he's not feeling well?

If your child has a temperature higher than 100 degrees, body aches, and extreme sleepiness or is coughing or vomiting, you need to keep him home until he is free of those symptoms for 24 hours. If he's not really sick, but something seems off, let the school nurse know and ask her to monitor your child.  

5. What if there is a sibling at home who is sick?

Tell the school nurse, "Joey's brother has been out with an illness. Joey's not having any symptoms, but I'm just letting you know." Then, reinforce healthy hygiene practices at home and school, and make sure all your kids are getting enough sleep.

6. How can I tell if my child has a cold or the flu?

A cold often begins with a sore throat that lasts for a day or two and is accompanied by sneezing, sniffling, and, in some cases, a temperature. It usually lasts for no more than a week, but symptoms can linger longer.

The flu usually comes on fast and includes more intense symptoms such as body aches and soreness, fever, headache, sore throat, and congestion that can last about a week. Kids with the flu don't want to get up and play. Flu can cause gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting (swine flu tends to be associated with vomiting and diarrhea).

7. How should I treat my child who has a cold or flu?

Make sure your child gets plenty of rest and fluids, such as water or 100% fruit juice, especially if your child has diarrhea or vomiting. Giving her a pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen (not aspirin), for fever is OK if taken as directed. But don't give your child an over-the-counter cold remedy without first talking to your health care provider. Many of these medicines are no longer recommended for children. If symptoms continue after three days and your child is still running a fever, call your health care provider. It's also helpful to contact the school nurse and ask what she sees going on at school. Is she noticing strep throat? Other illnesses? Ask what you should be watching for. And call your health care provider if the symptoms persist beyond three days, your child's fever is higher than 101 degrees, or your child has ear pain, a worsening cough, or a sinus-type headache.

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