• Children's Center

    Infectious Diseases A-Z: How to tell if your child should stay home or go to school

a young girl sitting on a couch, looking sad, worried or sick
As cold and flu season gets underway, many parents and care givers may be faced with the difficult task of deciding when to keep their child out of day care or school when a child is not feeling well. "From a parent’s perspective, the important things to know are how the child is doing overall," says Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Mayo Clinic. "Are they eating? Are they drinking? If they’re not drinking, it's probably not a good idea to send them off to school."

Watch: Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse discusses keeping a sick child home.

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Dehydration in young children is especially dangerous. "One of the biggest risks is dehydration, especially in young kids, and so keeping them home so you can keep a close eye on their intake and encourage them to drink is important if they’re not feeling well," Dr. Rajapakse says. "If your child is vomiting or has diarrhea, start offering fluids frequently at the first signs of illness." Soup, popsicles, and oral rehydration solutions are good options.

"Children who have a fever usually don't feel well enough to go school, and generally should be kept home," says Dr. Rajapakse. "It's also important in terms of transmission of infection. When you have a fever, oftentimes that’s when you’re at the highest risk of transmitting whatever infection you might have. So staying at home in those situations is important, as well."

Dr. Rajapakse says keeping your child home when he or she are at the highest risks of transmitting a virus to others can help break the chain of transmission. And it's a good idea for adults who are sick or think they have the flu to stay home to avoid infecting others around them.