From upper respiratory infections to lower intestinal bugs and everything in between, the onset of winter synchronizes with an annual invasion of illness-causing germs.
Young children are especially vulnerable to contracting illnesses due to a number of factors, says Charlotte Patterson. She is the nurse practitioner for Ouray Public Schools as well as the public health nurse for Ouray County, and explains that children are much more susceptible to illness than adults because their immune systems are still maturing.
“There are 200-some odd viruses around in our culture, and a person has to get them all to build an immunity to them – that’s why little kids get sick so frequently,” she explains.
When coughing and congestion seem to plague little ones most of the winter, it can be difficult for parents to know whether their child’s symptoms warrant a day or two home from school. Patterson offers these guidelines: Any child with a fever should stay home until 24 hours after the fever has resolved. Vomiting and diarrhea are also clear indications that kids should stay home from school. A kid who has multiple symptoms – a sore throat plus a cough or mild fever – should probably avoid school until their symptoms have cleared.
Patterson explains that keeping kids out of school is extremely important for two reasons: “They are contagious in those early few days of an illness, and also their immune systems are compromised. So if they come to school they may pick something else up that is going to cause them to be ill for much longer, or they’re going to make somebody else sick.”
Education is also key to keeping kids healthier in the winter. Proper hand-washing and nose-blowing are skills young children need to be taught. Kids also need to learn to cough into their sleeve instead of their hands. Adequate rest and good nutrition can also help kids avoid contracting some of the communicable diseases that rear their heads each winter, Patterson says.
According to Betsy Muennich, nurse consultant for Telluride-area daycares, some of the illnesses regional children are currently being treated for include:
Pink eye or conjunctivitis: A very contagious viral or bacterial infection of the inside lining of the eye. Symptoms usually include redness of the lining, crusty drainage, and sometimes pain. Bacterial infections may be treated with antibiotic eye drops; children must wait 24 hours after they start the drops before returning to school.
Staphylococcus infections of the skin (staph): Wounds that heal slowly, are very red and angry, and oozing. Any child with an oozing wound should be seen by a doctor to determine if they need antibiotics. Those children should remain at home until they’ve been on antibiotics for at least 24 hours. Impetigo is one form of this staph, which usually produces blisters or sores on the face, neck, hands, and diaper area.
Influenza: Symptoms include fever, chills, body aches, and cough. A quick nose swab can test for this disease. It is imperative that children under the age of 2 are seen by a doctor if they are presenting flu-like symptoms. Also, doctors can prescribe Tamiflu, an antiviral, at the early onset of flu symptoms.
Strept throat: Symptoms include sore throat, hoarseness, possibly coughing and fever, and even stomach pain. A quick throat swab can determine if a child has strept throat. It is a bacterial infection that can be treated with antibiotics, usually amoxicillin or zithromax.
Chicken pox or varicella: Generally starts with a rash on the trunk that extends to a child’s arms and legs. Usually other symptoms are a low grade fever and lack of energy.
All parents are encouraged to keep their children home if they are ill and to call their doctor for whatever health concerns they may have.