It was a Friday when my son was diagnosed with hand, foot and mouth disease. By Monday, he was cleared for day care. As any working mom will tell you, this was relieving beyond measure — my child was on the mend and I wouldn't be buried in unread emails due to missed work. But I did wonder, was it too soon? What if he needed a little extra TLC? And what about the health of the other kids?
As it turns out, my son's contagious period was over — and it happened when his symptoms were easy to miss. Mix that with a child's new, untested immune system, and school and day care become breeding grounds for sickness.
"Common illness is a part of childhood," says Dr. Michal Goldberg, a board-certified pediatrician with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. "We want our kids to be exposed to peers and to social interactions. That is how they learn and develop. Inevitably, exposure to other children means that they will be exposed to germs as well."
But sick kids need time to heal, and contagious kids can be dangerous to their peers. So where do you draw the line? "It's a judgment call," says Dr. Goldberg. "Parents need to do the best they can with the information that is available at the time."
To help, she offers three basic guidelines. Keep a child home if:
Seems easy enough, right? But for a mom like me, who wishes her child came with operating instructions, I need a little more help. "I believe in empowering families to make that judgment call," says Dr. Goldberg, "but with guidance from their doctor as needed."
She offers the following advice for the most common childhood ailments:
As kids grow, parents sometimes bend these rules because they are worried about work coverage or a test that their child might miss. Dr. Goldberg warns against this.
"I empathize with their frustrations," she says. "I am a parent, too. But if kids are contagious, they're contagious. And at the end of the day, parents really do know when to keep their kids home."