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Back-to-School Survival Guide

Back-to-School Child-Health Guide

Your children may be bringing home more than assignments: how to spot, prevent, and treat 13 illnesses your kids could contract at school.

By Kate Rope
Little boy reading in bedLiz Banfield


Strep Throat


What is it? An infection of the throat caused by group A streptococcus bacteria.

How do you catch it? Respiratory secretions (from a cough or sneeze, say) passed directly on the hands or by way of shared cups or eating utensils.

What are the symptoms? Strep is most common among kids ages 5 to 15. The big giveaway is an extremely painful throat, often accompanied by a fever that can be quite high. “Strep is usually marked by the absence of upper respiratory symptoms, such as a runny or stuffed nose,” says Murray. “You may feel like you can’t swallow, but you’re not going to be sneezing or having the water-faucet nose.”

How is it treated? Antibiotics are recommended, says Murray, not just to treat the infection but to prevent the rare, but more serious, consequences of strep such as rheumatic fever or kidney damage. Scarlet fever, a complication of strep that involves a red, sandpapery rash all over the body, is actually less of a concern than it was in the past, probably because of the changing strains of bacteria over the years, says Murray. Now scarlet fever is seen as another manifestation of the infection, rather than a dangerous complication. After 24 hours on antibiotics kids will no longer be contagious; the second day after starting treatment, kids will usually feel well enough to return to school. Before antibiotics kick in, Tylenol or ibuprofen can help lower the fever and make children more comfortable. Gargling with warm salt water several times a day can also ease throat pain.

How is it prevented? Advise your children not to share drinks and eating utensils.

When should a doctor be consulted? If you suspect strep, get your child to the doctor as soon as possible to be tested and treated.

Fifth Disease


What is it? A viral infection caused by the parvovirus.

How do you catch it? Fifth disease is passed through contact with respiratory secretions (i.e. when someone coughs or sneezes) and is usually contagious in the days—or even weeks—before its telltale rash appears.

What are the symptoms? Children exhibit a characteristic red “slapped cheek” look. Some develop a lacy or marbleized rash over their trunk and arms that fades from the center out. Lasting one to two weeks, it may or may not be accompanied by fever. Once the rash appears, children are usually no longer contagious.

What is the treatment? Fifth disease is a viral illness that will run its own course and resolve on its own.

How is it prevented? Hand washing.

When should a doctor be consulted? If your child develops a fever that is either very high (over 102 degrees) or prolonged (more than two days) or is unable to eat or drink. But, says Frankowski, “fifth disease is benign for children. Sometimes kids don’t even get much of a fever.” The bigger concern is exposure to pregnant women who have never had the condition; in rare cases, it can lead to anemia in the fetus or a miscarriage. If you are pregnant and believe you have been exposed to fifth disease, talk with your obstetrician. (Also, women who work with children and plan to become pregnant should ask their health care provider about having their immunity to the virus checked.

Read More About:Preventative Health

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