Too Sick For School?

Dr. Sarah Petersen, with University of Utah Health Care, has tips to help you decide if your child is too sick for school.

The truth is children don’t learn well or get much out of school when they are not feeling well. Although it can be difficult to arrange emergency childcare, it is truly in the child’s (and their classmates) best interest to keep them home from school when they are sick. The challenge for parents is to decide when it is just a simple case of the sniffles or something more serious.

Parents can use the following symptom-based guidelines to help them decide whether to keep their child home or not:


• A temperature of 101 or greater in a child older than 6 weeks is    considered a fever. Even if there are no other symptoms, a fever    is a sign of an infection. The child needs rest in order to heal    and may be contagious.

• Children should not return to school until they have been    fever-free (without medicine) for 24 hours. Most fevers are    caused by viruses and the child should get better on their own    within a few days, but if the child has a high fever for more than    3-4 days, they should see a doctor.

• If a newborn baby (less than 6 weeks old) has a temp of 100.4    or higher, they need to be seen by a doctor immediately. Fevers    can be a sign of a serious infection in newborns.

• While at home, encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids.

Mild Cough/Runny Nose /Sore Throat

• Ideally, no child would ever go to school sick. However, children    get colds so frequently, especially when they are young, that    they would miss a significant amount of school if they stayed    home for every runny nose and scratchy throat.

• If there’s no fever and the child feels fairly well, school is fine. If    they have a severe sore throat, it could be strep and the child    will need to see a doctor. Kids with strep may return to school    24 hours after antibiotic treatment begins.

Bad Cough/Cold Symptoms

• Children with bad coughs need to stay home and possibly see a    doctor, especially if they are having trouble breathing. It could    be a severe cold or possibly bronchitis, flu, or pneumonia. But    when the cough improves and the child is feeling better, then    it’s back to school. Don’t wait for the cough to disappear entirely    — that could take a week or longer!


• A single episode can happen sometimes just when a child is    nervous, etc. However, if they vomit more than once it is likely    due to an underlying problem such as viral gastroenteritis,    which is very contagious. If the vomit is bloody or has a dark    green color, the child should be seen by a doctor.


• Unless the child has recently finished a course of antibiotics    (which can cause a non-infectious diarrhea), diarrhea is a sign    that the child may have a virus. These viruses are easily passed    from one child to the next. In this situation, children need to    stay home, rest, and drink plenty of fluids. If there is blood or    mucus in the diarrhea, they should see a doctor.


• Children with a skin rash should see a doctor, as this could be    one of several infectious diseases. One possibility is impetigo, a    bacterial skin infection that is very contagious and requires    antibiotic treatment.


• This is more than just acting tired. If you’re having a hard time    waking up your child or if the child’s behavior is significantly    different than usual, consult with your physician.

Sarah Petersen, M.D.
University of Utah Health Care
South Jordan Health Center

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