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Ask Dr. Sears: Too Sick for Daycare?

Q. When do I need to keep my sick child home?

A. Germs are one of the few things children share easily. But not every sneeze is contagious. Here are three common symptoms, and how to tell whether to keep a child home:

RUNNY NOSE

Red light: If the mucus is becoming more yellow and green and your child is also lethargic or has a fever or an earache, she should stay home. These symptoms suggest a more serious infection like sinusitis or pneumonia.

Green light: If the secretions are clear and watery and she doesn't seem sick, send your little one to daycare or school. It's either a cold or an allergy. It's generally okay to send her in with a cold, as long as there's no fever.

EYE GUNK

Red light: If your child's eyes are bloodshot, with or without yellow drainage, she may have pinkeye (also called conjunctivitis) and shouldn't attend daycare until she's seen a doctor, who may prescribe antibiotic drops.

Green light: If there's yellow stuff in the corner of your child's eyes but she's otherwise well, it could be from a cold that's no longer contagious.

DIARRHEA

Red light: If her bowel movements are watery, mucusy, or bloody, it's an indication that she is potentially contagious -- especially if she's nauseated or has a fever. She should not attend daycare until her stools are no longer watery and explosive, her temperature is normal, and she's no longer vomiting (if she was). Make sure she drinks plenty of fluids.

Green light: After the acute stage of a diarrheal illness, which usually lasts a few days, your child's stools might remain loose and frequent for several weeks because intestines are very slow to heal. This is the convalescent stage of an intestinal illness, during which she's no longer contagious and can attend daycare.

It's not always easy to tell whether a child's illness is contagious. Use your parental intuition and, of course, consult your doctor. When in doubt, keep your child out.

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