With the return to school, kids are getting a lesson in sharing germs that cause cold, flu, strep throat and more.
It’s not unusual for kids to experience six to eight cold-like illnesses a year, says Karla Birkholz, MD, a primary care physician at HonorHealth Medical Group in Glendale and medical director of HonorHealth Wellness.
Cold and flu viruses spread through the air and by contact. This doesn’t bode well for schoolchildren who are in close proximity and who frequently touch one another throughout the day.
The fact that kids are most contagious when they’re first infected – sometimes before symptoms surface – means germs can quietly spread very quickly. By the time a student exhibits classic cold symptoms of cough and runny nose, the virus has likely already moved on to the next child.
Dr. Birkholz recommends keeping kids home during the first 24 to 48 hours, offering comfort care to help reduce fever, and ensuring ample rest so the body can fight the illness. But she says it’s not realistic, nor does she recommend, keeping kids home for the duration of a cold, which can last 10 to14 days. Instead, she suggests sending kids back to school once they’re feeling well enough and have been fever-free without medication for at least 24 hours.
Add recovery time with flu
While most people can work through a cold, the flu is more severe and generally requires added recovery time. In addition to a cough and runny nose, fever, muscle pain, achiness and weakness accompany flu. Complications from flu can lead to pneumonia.
Strep throat also can flash through schools because of how easily it spreads. Characterized by a severe sore throat, fever and achiness, strep throat is a bacterial infection that requires antibiotics. The good news, Dr. Birkholz says, is that symptoms of strep throat typically subside after a day or two of taking medication. Children can usually return to school after the first 24 hours of the medication cycle.
Because their immune systems are still developing, young children tend to catch a lot of viral illnesses. Exposure to germs is a necessary part of strengthening the immune system and building your immunity. But following basic prevention strategies could help reduce the number or impact of infections.
How to stay healthy
Dr. Birkholz recommends that you:
- Get a flu shot annually. That applies for everyone over six months of age, including pregnant women.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water.
- Cough into your elbow instead of your hands.
- Get adequate sleep.
- Drink lots of fluids.
- Maintain good nutrition.
- Take a high-quality probiotic pill daily to boost your body’s reserve of good bacteria, which is helpful in fighting infections.
No one is immune to illness. If you catch a cold or flu, stay home and give your body a chance to recover. Strep throat needs to be diagnosed and treated, so see a doctor as soon you suspect it.
While it’s usually not necessary to see a doctor or take antibiotics for routine viral infections like colds or flu, Dr. Birkholz says medical attention is sometimes needed. She suggests seeing a doctor if you experiences such complications as dehydration, wheezing, shortness of breath, or unusual or prolonged symptoms. A fever of 105 degrees also justifies a trip to the doctor.Have you had your flu shot? Talk to your HonorHealth doctor about preventing or treating the cold, flu or strep throat. If you don’t have a doctor, call 623-580-5800 to find a doctor who can help.