Why is it that as soon as your kids go back to school, they seem to come down with something? Whether it’s with a case of nits, a bad cold or something else, it’s not surprising, says ZoomDoc Chief Medical Officer and GP, Dr Kenny Livingstone.
‘Children spend all summer outdoors and away from hot and crowded classrooms. When they go back it’s a breeding ground for germs to spread, especially as the weather gets colder and they spend less time outdoors,’ he says.
Fortunately, some of the most common back-to-school bugs won’t need time off school and even if they do need a few days at home, it’s unlikely they’ll need a trip to the doctor. (Although always go with your gut and get your child checked out if you’re concerned.)
Here are some of the most likely conditions to affect your child this term – and how to treat them.
Head lice and nits
Not had a letter sent home yet about head lice or nits outbreaks yet? If your child’s at primary school it probably won’t be too long before you get one.
But to properly get rid of them and stop them continuing to do the rounds takes more than one wet combing session or treatment.
Start by wet combing using a nit comb or fine-toothed comb to go through small sections of the hair. This will take around 30 minutes for long or curly hair.
This then needs to be repeated, says NHS treatment advice, which recommends:
‘wet combing on days 1, 5, 9 and 13 to catch any newly hatched head lice. Check again that everyone’s hair is free of lice on day 17.’
If you prefer or need to use a medicated lotion or spray, you’ll probably need to repeat this after 7-10 days to catch any newly-hatched lice.
If your child hasn’t been affected by the latest head lice outbreak in their class is it worth treating their hair anyway?
‘No, head lice remedies don’t work to prevent head lice appearing and they could irritate the scalp. Just keep any eye on their hair and scalp so that you can treat any that may appear, as soon as you spot them,’ says Dr Kenny.
Threadworms – or pinworms – are common in children and can spread easily if they’re not washing their hands well with soap, particularly after using the toilet and before eating.
Tell-tale signs, aside from seeing tiny white worms around their bottom, can be an itchy bottom that gets worse at night and disrupts their sleep.
‘Threadworms may sound unpleasant but you don’t need a doctor to treat them,’ says Dr Kenny.
See your pharmacist for a medicine called Mebendazole as this will kill the actual worms. To kill the eggs you’ll need to make sure everyone washes hands well, regularly, has regular baths or showers and wash all clothes and bedding on a hot wash.
Unfortunately a stomach bug, such as norovirus that involves sickness, vomiting or diarrhoea will require time off school.
NHS guidance is to keep them off for 48 hours after their last bout of either sickness or diarrhoea.
‘Although the symptoms are unpleasant, most children will recover after a few days,’ says Dr Kenny.
However, if you’re worried about your child, follow NHS advice, which says to see a doctor or call 111 if you’re concerned about any of the following symptoms during a suspected bout of norovirus:
- your child shows signs of dehydration after using oral rehydration sachets
- your child keeps being sick and cannot keep fluid down
- your child has bloody diarrhoea or bleeding from the bottom
- your child has diarrhoea for more than 7 days or vomiting for more than 2 days.
Struggling to get an appointment at a time that suits you? Download our app and speak to a ZoomDoc GP from just £35. We can offer peace of mind, prescriptions or help with referrals, if required.
COVID, coughs and colds
Coughs and colds are already doing the rounds at schools and with no need to take time off school with them, it’s no surprise they spread quickly around pupils. It’s also no bad thing, explains Dr Kenny.
‘Kids need to get coughs and colds to help build up their immune system and help them to fight off infections as they get older. So although they can make healthy kids feel a bit under the weather, it’s actually good for them,’ he says.
But what about COVID? We all remember the days when a cough or fever meant keeping kids and even their siblings off for up to 10 days. Fast forward a few years and we’re now living restriction free. In fact, there’s no need to test for the virus anymore, unless you want to.
If your child does test positive for COVID – or you suspect they have it – and they have a fever or seem unwell with it, it’s a good idea to keep them off school until their fever goes.
However, if they have flu-like symptoms but seem well enough to go to school, let them.
Top tips for keeping kids well this winter
Here are Dr Kenny’s tips for keeping your child as healthy as possible this term, and beyond:
- Get them into good handwashing techniques – make sure they always wash well after they go to the toilet and before they eat, ideally. Use soap and wash for about 20 seconds before drying on a clean towel.
- Take up the flu nasal spray when offered – schools will administer this quickly and painlessly on a school day so do consent when you receive your flu vaccine letter over the next few weeks. Find out more here.
- Give them a healthy diet and lifestyle – fill their lunch boxes with colourful fruit and vegetables, which will help support their immune systems. And try to get as much fresh air and daylight as you can, whether a kickaround at the park after school or a weekend bike ride, keeping them active will help keep them healthy.