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5 Common Illnesses Kids Pick Up at School


  • What Should I Look For? Area of reddened skin with honey-colored discharge on top.
  • How Contagious Is It? Impetigo spreads only through direct contact with the infected area.
  • What Prevents It? Frequent handwashing; keeping any cuts or sores covered.

Strep Throat

  • What Should I Look For? Fever and sore throat—but no cough or congestion.
  • How Contagious Is It? Very, among children in close contact. The bacteria can also be picked up from doorknobs or utensils. A child with strep shouldn't return to school until on antibiotics for 24 hours.
  • What Prevents It? Not sharing anything, especially drinks or food. Get your kid a new toothbrush after the first 24 hours on antibiotics to avoid a repeat infection.

Fifth Disease

  • What Should I Look For? Sore throat, low-grade fever, headache, then a facial rash like bright-red, slapped cheeks, and a lace-like rash on the chest, back, and arms. If your child has an impaired immune system or blood disease, call the doctor if he's been exposed.
  • How Contagious Is It? Moderately early on, but not after the rash has appeared.
  • What Prevents It? Frequent handwashing; not sharing food or drinks.

Chicken Pox

  • What Should I Look For? First, a fever and/or sore throat, then a rash that looks like pimples or little bug bites, usually first seen on the abdomen or back.
  • How Contagious Is It? Highly, through the airborne virus and the blisters, until every last one has crusted over and new ones aren't appearing.
  • What Prevents It? Vaccination at 12 to 18 months and again at 4 to 6 years. A vaccinated child can still get chicken pox, but it'll be a shorter, milder case.


  • What Should I Look For? Fever, headache, stiff neck, vomiting, confusion. Viral meningitis is more common but also less serious than bacterial meningitis, which can be life-threatening. The only way to tell the difference is by testing the spinal fluid, so call the doctor immediately if you suspect meningitis.
  • How Contagious Is It? Very. It spreads through nasal mucus and fecal contamination.
  • What Prevents It? The Hib vaccine for bacterial meningitis; thorough handwashing, especially after using the bathroom.