School nurses, walk-in clinic administrators and pediatricians agree the most common childhood illnesses are stomach bugs, viral illnesses, common cold and the flu.
But while they are common, every child is different and each can be impacted differently. What can be done to prevent these illnesses, if anything? When should you keep your child home from school?
Matt Neisinger, a spokesperson for the Bellingham Public Schools nurse team, said, “We ask that children who have fevers over 100 degrees, vomiting, diarrhea, or weeping rashes stay home from school.”
It’s good for families to be vigilant as we head into the flu season, and the best defense for fighting illness is a good offense, Neisinger said.
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“Fortunately, the best ways to stay healthy are things we all know to do already,” Neisinger said. “Families can help their children stay healthy by making sure they drink lots of water, sleep approximately 10 hours a night, eat a well-balanced diet, including lots of fruits and vegetables and are up to date on immunizations.”
And, the nurses remind parents and children alike that the single most important thing everyone can do to stay healthy is to wash their hands with soap and water.
“So, get to the nearest sink and get scrubbing,” Neisinger said.
Despite getting the flu vaccine and taking all the necessary precautions, young children are at high risk of complications from flu, according to the Washington State Department of Health.
The emergency room should be used for people who are very sick, not for those only mildly ill.
If you have the emergency warning signs of flu sickness, you should go to the emergency room. If you get sick with flu symptoms and are at high risk of flu complications or you are concerned about your illness, call your health care provider for advice. If you go to the emergency room and you are not sick with the flu, you may catch it from people who do have it.
So, you might ask, what are the emergency warning signs of flu sickness?
In children, the state advises to look for these signs:
▪ Fast or troubled breathing.
▪ Bluish skin color.
▪ Not drinking enough fluids.
▪ Not waking up or not interacting.
▪ Being so irritable that a child does not want to be held.
▪ Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough.
▪ Fever with a rash.
In addition to the signs above, get medical help right away for any infant who has any of these signs:
▪ Unable to eat.
▪ Trouble breathing.
▪ No tears when crying.
▪ Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal.
For childhood illnesses in general, Bellingham’s PeaceHealth Medical Group Pediatric Clinic say it’s up to parents to protect children from common contagious diseases that can cause skin rashes and other symptoms.
According to research or other evidence, the following self-care steps may be helpful, the group advises:
▪ Learn about vaccinations: Talk to your healthcare provider about the potential risks and benefits of using vaccinations for preventing childhood diseases.
▪ Diet right: Ensure your child eats a nutritious diet to boost his or her immune system and improve the effectiveness of vaccinations.
▪ Take your child for a checkup: Visit your child’s doctor to make sure the disease does not result in serious complications.
Battling the Mumps
Despite the availability of a vaccine, mumps continue to be a concern among children. From Jan. 1 to Oct. 6, 2018, 47 states, including Washington, and the District of Columbia in the U.S. reported 1,885 mumps infections, according to preliminary data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mumps, according to Bellingham’s PeaceHealth Medical Group Pediatric Clinic, is a contagious viral infection that can cause painful swelling of the salivary glands, especially the parotid glands (between the ear and the jaw). Some people with mumps won’t have gland swelling. They may feel like they have a bad cold or the flu instead.
Mumps usually goes away on its own in about 10 days. But in some cases, it can cause complications that affect the brain (meningitis), the testicles (orchitis), the ovaries (oophoritis), or the pancreas (pancreatitis), according to the group.
The mumps vaccine protects against the illness. This vaccine is part of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) and MMRV (measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella (chickenpox) vaccines. Most children get the vaccine as part of their regular shots. Before the mumps vaccine existed, mumps was a common childhood disease in the United States and Canada.
Mumps is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes near you or shares food or drinks, according to Dr. Jim Bochsler, pediatrician and vice president of PeaceHealth Medical Group’s Northwest network. You can spread the virus seven days before and for nine days after symptoms start. You are most likely to spread the virus one to two days before and five days after symptoms start.
Mumps is usually diagnosed based on symptoms and a history of exposure to the virus. If needed, a blood test can be done to confirm that you have mumps and rule out other illnesses.
If you think that you or your child has mumps, be sure to call ahead and explain the symptoms before you go to a doctor’s office, Bochsler said. It’s important to stay away from other people as much as you can so that you don’t spread the disease.
In most cases, people recover from mumps with rest and care at home, according to Bochsler. In complicated cases, a hospital stay may be required.
If you or your child has mumps:
▪ Take medicine to help relieve fever or headache, if needed. Follow all instructions on the label. If you give medicine to a baby, follow your doctor’s advice about what amount to give. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20 because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome.
▪ Use ice or a heat pack (whichever feels better) on swollen, painful areas. Put a thin towel under the ice or heat to protect the skin.
▪ Drink extra fluids to help reduce fever and prevent dehydration.
▪ Suck on ice chips or flavored ice pops. Eat soft foods that don’t require chewing.
Anyone who has mumps should stay out of school, day care, work and public places until five days after the salivary glands first start to swell, according to Bochsler. In general, you don’t need to separate the sick person from the rest of the family. By the time mumps is diagnosed, most household members have already been exposed.
Getting your child vaccinated is important, because mumps can sometimes cause serious problems. It’s also important because mumps is a contagious disease, and outbreaks can easily occur.
What are the symptoms of mumps?
Symptoms may include:
▪ Swelling and pain in the jaw. One or both cheeks may look swollen.
▪ Headache, earache, sore throat and pain when you swallow or open your mouth.
▪ Tiredness, with aching in the muscles and joints.
▪ Poor appetite and vomiting.
It usually takes 2-3 weeks to get symptoms after you have been exposed to the virus. This is called the incubation period. Some people who are infected with the mumps virus don’t have any symptoms.
If you have more serious symptoms, such as a stiff neck or a severe headache, painful testicles, or severe belly pain, call your doctor right away.
Source: Bellingham’s PeaceHealth Medical Group Pediatric Clinic
Parental advice for preventing the flu
The single best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated each year, but good health habits like covering your cough and washing your hands often can help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses like the flu.
▪ Avoid close contact. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
▪ Stay home when you are sick. If possible, stay home from work, school and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.
▪ Cover your mouth and nose. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
▪ Clean your hands. Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
▪ Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
▪ Practice other good health habits. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food.
Source: Whatcom County Health Department