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Too Sick For School?

When your child comes down with a bug, it can be tricky to figure out if she's well enough to go to daycare or school.

But certain symptoms, like sniffles or a fever (if it's under 100.4 degrees and the child is behaving normally), needn't keep your child  -- and you  -- quarantined, says Adine Brandes, M.D., assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New York City. "It's not uncommon for a child just entering daycare or school to catch as many as a dozen colds during the first year," she says. "If parents kept kids home that often, they'd miss a lot of the school year."

For the best course of care for seven common childhood maladies, check the guidelines below:

STREP THROAT

What it is: A bacterial infection, marked by a sore throat, fever, and sometimes a stomachache, and diagnosed with a throat culture.

When to keep child home: As soon as infection is suspected, or if fever is over 100.4°F and above symptoms are present, and for 24 hours after starting antibiotics.

How to avoid spreading it: Contact with others should be limited until the infection clears up, which is often within three to five days.

CHICKEN POX

What it is: A herpes virus that causes fever, blistering, and an itchy, pimplelike rash. Usually transmitted by direct contact with lesions or airborne respiratory secretions.

When to keep child home: As long as fresh lesions continue to show up, which can happen for three to seven days after the rash begins.

How to avoid spreading it: Keep your child away from those at home who haven't had it. Since the virus can be contagious as early as two days before the rash shows up, you should notify your daycare or school and the parents of kids your child has played with during this period.

COLD

What it is: A viral infection that brings on runny nose, scratchy throat, lethargy, and sometimes fever, vomiting, diarrhea, or stomachache.

When to keep child home: When there's fever above 100.4 degrees, accompanied by symptoms like excessive lethargy, vomiting, or diarrhea.

How to avoid spreading it: Encourage your child to wash his hands often to prevent spreading the cold, which can last from seven to ten days. He should also try to sneeze into a tissue and cover his mouth when he coughs.

PINKEYE

What it is: Typically a viral or bacterial infection producing watery, itchy, often pinkish eyes, which may appear crusted-over after sleeping. A thick, yellow discharge generally indicates that the cause is bacterial.

When to keep child home: As soon as infection is suspected, and for 24 hours after beginning antibiotic treatment. Some daycare centers and schools advise that the child stay home as long as the eye is infected, which is about three to seven days.

How to avoid spreading it: Frequent hand washing is crucial, since the infection is often passed from a child's eye to her hand, where she can infect her other eye or pass it on to someone else.

FLU

What it is: A virus that usually attacks between October and April, peaking in the winter months. Symptoms include severe, all-over body aches, vomiting, high fever, chills, and often nasal congestion and sore throat.

When to keep child home: As long as fever is above 100.4°F, and achiness, lethargy, and digestive problems last, which is usually for five to seven days.

How to avoid spreading it: The flu is passed in droplets that are coughed or sneezed into the air or rubbed on hands or belongings, so frequent hand washing and tissue use are important.

IMPETIGO

What it is: A staph or strep infection that creates red, oozing, blisterlike pimples that can appear anywhere on the body, most often the face.

When to keep child home: As soon as infection is suspected, and for 24 hours after starting antibiotic treatment. Since the child is contagious as long as the lesions are present, some daycare centers and schools may not allow him back until they dry up, which can take two to five days.

How to avoid spreading it: The infection spreads from a child's nasal discharge (which often goes from a kid's hands to his face), so once again, frequent hand washing and tissue use are key.

HEAD LICE

What it is: An infestation of tiny bugs that live and breed on the scalp and cause intense itching.

When to keep child home: Many schools have adopted a "no-nit" (lice eggs) policy because lice are so easily passed from person to person. Once a child begins treatment with a lice shampoo, it usually takes 24 hours before most of the lice are killed and the nits can be removed with a comb. Head checks should continue for 10 to 14 days.

How to avoid spreading it: Until the condition clears up, your child should avoid close contact with other kids as well as sharing combs, hats, or towels.

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