How to Control Contagious Infections in Children

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on October 29, 2021

The flu, pink eye, stomach bugs: When you know your child is sick, you keep them home. The problem is, kids can come in contact with germs and spread an infection before symptoms appear.

Here's what you can do to lower the chances of that happening.

Practice the Basics

To keep contagious diseases at bay, the first step is prevention.

  • Make sure you and your children eat right and are well-rested. That boosts the body's defenses.
  • Don't share items like cups, spoons, forks, straws, towels, pillows, or toothbrushes.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then toss the tissue. Or cough into your arm. Then wash your hands.
  • Always wash your hands before touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. Teach your children to wash their hands with soap before eating. Look at hand washing as a survival skill.

Tips for Hand Washing

Wash them:

  • Before and after preparing food
  • Before eating
  • After using the bathroom
  • After handling animals or their waste
  • After coughing or sneezing
  • More frequently if someone at home is sick

A quick rinse just isn’t enough. To wash well:

  1. Wet your hands and lather up with liquid or bar soap.
  2. Scrub all surfaces for 15 to 20 seconds.
  3. Rinse well, and dry your hands.
  4. No soap and water? Use alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers.

What to Disinfect and How


  • Phones
  • Stair railings
  • Countertops
  • Bathroom surfaces (toilet seats, handles, faucets)
  • Remote controls
  • Microwaves and refrigerator handles
  • Door handles
  • Light switches
  • Toys

To stop germs in their tracks, the CDC recommends virus-killing chlorine bleach. Add 1/4 cup bleach to 1 gallon of warm water. Let the mixture sit on surfaces for 10 minutes before rinsing.

When you disinfect, wear rubber gloves and a mask if the chemicals bother you, and open doors and windows.

Spot the Warning Signs of an Illness

The sooner you do that, the more likely you are to keep it from spreading.

Colds and coughs usually spread when a sick person coughs, sneezes, or talks. They might also have a runny nose and mild fever.

The fluoften spreads when a sick person coughs or sneezes. Symptoms can include a runny nose, cough, fever, chills, and body aches. The disease is contagious about 1 day before symptoms appear and 5 days after. The illness can lead to serious complications that land some people in the hospital. The best way to avoid catching it is to get your annual flu vaccine.

MRSA(methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) can be spread by touching another person who has it. The best way to prevent it is to keep your hands clean, avoid touching other people’s wounds and bandages, and keep your own cuts and scrapes covered with bandages until they're healed. Also, don’t share sports equipment or clothing.

Pinkeyeis highly contagious. It's spread when you touch your eye after coming into contact with something an infected person has touched. Symptoms include eye redness, itching, pain, and discharge. Never touch your eye without washing your hands, and don't share towels or eye makeup.

Stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis) is spread by not washing your hands after using the bathroom and before handling food. Symptoms include cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting. They usually show up 1 or 2 days after exposure to the virus, which is carried in the stool of a sick person.

Strep throatis common in children and spreads when a sick person breathes, coughs, or sneezes. Tiny droplets with the strep bacteria can be breathed in by other people. Symptoms include sore throat, fever, headache, white patches in the throat, stomach ache, and sometimes a sandpaper-like rash. Strep can last 2 to 5 days. You’re contagious for 24 hours after starting an antibiotic.

Whooping cough(pertussis) and chickenpox are childhood diseases that can be prevented by vaccines, so they aren’t as common today. Still, they can happen in unvaccinated children. Whooping cough causes a high-pitched "whoop" in between coughing spells that can last up to 12 weeks. Children with whooping cough can be contagious for about 3 weeks. Chickenpox causes blisters all over the body. It's most contagious for 1 to 2 days before symptoms appear and until the blisters have crusted over.

WebMD Medical Reference



American Academy of Family Physicians: "Acute Bronchitis."

Communicable Disease Epidemiology Program, Colorado Department Of Public Health And Environment: "Infectious Disease In School Settings."

Children's Hospital Colorado: "Flu Facts."

Seattle Children's Hospital: "Should I Worry About MRSA?"

CDC: "Viral Gastroenteritis."

Children's Hospital Colorado: "Your Child's Cough."

American Academy of Family Physicians: "Sore Throat."

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