Desks, pencils, books, lunch boxes, drinking fountains, buses, chalk, locker rooms.
Those are just a handful of things everyone in school touches multiple times a day. So is it a wonder why once kids start back to school, the community seems to come down with more sickness?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports elementary school children get up to 12 colds during the school year. Other common illnesses during those months include influenza, whooping cough and stomach viruses. Once in a while, meningitis rears its ugly head, especially among college students living in close quarters.
“Schools are germ factories,” said Dr. Brad Clark, a pediatrician at Ogden Clinic. “Organisms that cause these diseases are easily spread in a large group of kids. If one child goes to school with a viral illness, it doesn’t take long for them to spread those germs to their classmates if they cough without covering their mouth, use the restroom without washing their hands, or touch other children after touching their own face.”
Not only does back to school bring more sickness, Clark said a lot of illnesses are more prevalent in the winter months.
“A lot of the viruses that cause illnesses like influenza or the common cold survive and are spread better in cold temperatures,” Clark said. “In addition, people tend to stay indoors together during the cold winter months, making it easier for germs to spread.”
Meningitis is another illnesses to watch for. Although not as common, the illness can be deadly, especially if it’s bacterial. According to the Utah Department of Health, there were 97 cases of various forms of meningitis in 2013, the last available report. Those cases were bacterial, viral, aseptic and meningococcal.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges, or tissue that covers the brain and spinal cord, Clark said.There are several organisms that can cause meningitis including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites.In school-aged kids, viruses are the most common cause.
Symptoms of meningitis include fever, headache, neck stiffness, sensitivity to light, excessive sleep, nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, and lack of energy.
“The germs that cause meningitis can be spread by having close contact with another person who is sick,” Clark said. “There are certain groups of people who are at a higher risk for meningitis.These would include children younger than age 5 and those with weak immune systems due to medications, diseases, chemotherapy or a recent bone marrow or organ transplant.These children are more likely to have a severe illness.”
The treatment for meningitis depends on the cause.Bacterial meningitis requires hospitalization and antibiotic therapy.Viral meningitis is typically less severe and most kids generally get better with time as their immune system fights off the infection, Clark said.
“There are immunizations that do help to prevent infections with bacteria known to cause meningitis including Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenza type B, and Neisseria meningitidis.It is critical that children receive these immunizations in order to prevent serious infections,” he said.
The most important way to reduce your risk of becoming sick and spreading it to every family member along the way, is to wash your hands.
“Wash after using the bathroom, wiping your nose, or coming in contact with someone else who is sick.Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands,” Clark said.
The CDC also recommends teaching children to sing the Happy Birthday song twice while washing their hands. Clark said it’s also a good idea to wipe down frequently used surfaces like doorknobs and toys with virus-killing disinfectant wipes to prevent viruses from spreading.
Clark said a lot of illnesses can be managed at home with a lot of rest and fluids.However, there are definitely circumstances that it is appropriate to seek medical help.Warning signs include persistent fevers, difficulty breathing, not being able to keep fluids down, illnesses that last more than 10 days or are getting worse, or anytime something doesn’t seem quite right.
And if you or your child is sick? The CDC strongly encourages you to stay home, avoid kissing, hugging, shaking hands, sharing towels, utensils, cups, and cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue.