Growing up, kids get frequent sore throats and have odd coughs. It can throw a parent into a tizzy on a busy morning to see their child come sluggishly into the kitchen when you just want to get going. Whether or not to keep kids home from school when they’re symptomatic is a feverish topic. Some parents opt to keep their kids home due to minor issues. Others expect their offspring to tough it up and always make it to class.

Experts Weigh In

“Parents should keep their children home from school if they have a fever of 100.5 or greater, diarrhea or vomiting in the past 24 hours,” says Deanna Bell, M.D., a pediatrician with The Children’s Hospital at TriStar Centennial. “They should also keep their children home if they have persistent cough, persistent sneeze, profuse runny nose or incontinence,” she adds.

“The majority of illnesses kids get and spread are viruses,” says Kate Seymour, M.D., of St. Thomas Medical Group Children and Adult Medicine. “The more common bacterial infections children get are strep, urinary tract infections, impetigo and pink eye,” she adds. 

The tricky thing is, kids are often contagious before symptoms show up. There’s also a big difference between viral and bacterial infections. Bacterial ones respond to antibiotic treatment whereas viral infections must run their course.

 

The 24-Hour Rule

There’s a common rule across school systems saying you should keep your child at home until he’s been on antibiotics for a full 24 hours or is symptom-free for 24 hours when it’s viral. 

“For bacterial infections, a child is much less contagious after 24 hours of therapy with antibiotics,” says Bell. “For children with viruses, antibiotics have no effect,” she adds.

Seymour suggests parents take several factors into consideration when deciding to keep a child home from school. Primarily, take into account your doctor’s advice given the factors associated with different illnesses along with whether your child feels well enough to learn and play. “If a child has had a fever within the past 24 hours, he is likely to be contagious and should not attend school,” Seymour adds.

 

GERMS BUILD IMMUNITY

While it undoubtedly frustrates parents when their child winds up sick thanks to exposure at school, consider the bright side. In the long run, those germs are helpful in building your child’s future immunity.

“Part of growing up is developing an immune system that has had a wide variety of exposures and can therefore be more effective in reacting appropriately without overreacting,” says Seymour. 

Bell concurs. “The body’s immune system learns over time. The immune system captures invading viruses and bacteria then custom makes antibodies to attack each type of invader,” she notes.

The reason young children are sick more than adults is because their bodies are still learning to make the defenses to commonly encountered viruses and bacteria. 

Reminder: the most effective way to prevent the spread of disease is thorough hand washing ... a practice you should teach kids early on.