Minimize Illness for Children in Day Care

Health Sick Boy

Winter is in full swing. For many parents of young children in day care, this means a greater chance for them to catch viral and bacterial illnesses such as ear infections, strep throat and colds.

While it's not possible to keep young children in day care or at home from getting sick, parents can take precautions to minimize their child's exposure and manage illnesses that do occur.

In a day care classroom, germs can spread quickly, even with proper precautions. Young children may catch a new infection as often as every three to four weeks, making it seem as if the child is constantly ill.

Most infections in day care centers are caused by viruses that usually go away on their own. However, these viruses also spread rapidly. Studies have shown that when a virus is introduced on a toy in a toddler's day care room in the morning, it can be cultured from up to 80 percent of the children by the end of the day, and 50 percent of their parents will harbor the virus by the next morning.

Dr. Dennis Clement, a pediatrician at Duke University Health Center, suggests selecting the smallest day care group possible to minimize the number of people who expose your child to infections. He also recommends asking to make sure the center's employees practice frequent and thorough hand-washing techniques.

Some children are prone to chronic ear infections (otitis media). Viral illnesses can also cause secondary bacterial ear infections, which can be treated with antibiotics, but the underlying viral illness will have to go away on its own. Because many children in day care are more likely to have had antibiotic treatment for such infections, antibiotic-resistant organisms can emerge, sometimes making treatment more difficult.

Typical symptoms of viral illnesses include fever, runny nose and cough. Common year-round viruses include rhinovirus, adenovirus and parainfluenza virus. These may cause a cough or croup and viral conjunctivitis, also known as "pink eye." Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is another common virus among children. Children in day care are also exposed to bacterial and other infections, such as strep throat. Good hygiene and frequent hand-washing can help prevent the spread of some of these illnesses.

Once a child is sick, provide plenty of liquids and adequate medication to control fevers. Check with your child's pediatrician if you are unsure about proper dosages. If your child's fever persists or returns, take him to the doctor to see if he has a bacterial infection. Learn more health tips for children at www.dukechildrens.org.

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