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When Should You Keep Your Child Home Sick from School or Daycare? Mayo Expert Offers Tips

January 8, 2013

PRAIRIE DU CHIEN, Wis. — Children are bound to come down with the occasional cold or other viral illness, especially when cold weather keeps a whole class cooped up inside all day. Whether or not to keep your sick child home from school or daycare can be a difficult decision to make, and may also depend on your child's school or daycare policies. A Mayo Clinic physician offers tips on how to decide.

"Young children's immune systems haven't learned to recognize and resist most common viruses," explains Robert Key, M.D., family physician at Mayo Clinic Health System in Prairie du Chien. "That's why, until they're 8 or so, kids seem to bring home everything that's making the rounds at school. Children can typically have six to 10 colds per year."

"In general, children should stay home when they don't feel well enough to participate in normal daily activities and lack sufficient alertness to learn or play," Dr. Key says.

He suggests that kids should stay home when they experience:

  • Vomiting twice or more over a 24-hour period or being unable to tolerate normal food and drink, or both.
  • A temperature of 101 or higher.
  • Severe coughing or difficulty breathing.
  • Repeated bouts of severe diarrhea for at least a day.
  • Persistent abdominal pain (more than 2 hours).
  • Open sores on the mouth.
  • A skin rash or red eye from an undetermined cause.
  • Head lice or scabies.
  • Other contagious conditions such as strep throat, chicken pox, impetigo, etc.

According to Mayo Clinic, the top four infectious illnesses that keep children home from school or daycare are colds, the "stomach flu," pink eye and strep throat.

If your child's illness seems to be more than just a common cold or flu, you may want to contact his or her regular health care provider to see whether the symptoms could indicate something more serious.

The single most important thing your child can do to prevent illness is to wash his or her hands thoroughly and frequently. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people wash their hands with soap and warm water for 15 seconds — about as long as it takes to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice.

Mayo Clinic Health System consists of Mayo-owned clinics, hospitals and other health care facilities that serve the health care needs of people in 70 communities in Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The community-based providers, paired with the resources and expertise of Mayo Clinic, enable patients in the region to receive the highest-quality health care close to home.

About the Franciscan Healthcare History

The La Crosse based Franciscan Healthcare is a joint collaboration between Mayo Clinic Health System and co-sponsored by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration (FSPA). The relationship first formed in 1995 when Franciscan Skemp Healthcare became part of the Mayo Clinic and Mayo Health System. The FSPA built St. Francis Hospital in La Crosse back in 1883. Skemp Clinic was later founded in 1923 by Dr. Archibald Skemp.