Contagious or Not Contagious?

This is the time of year when kiddos start showing up at school and daycare with snotty noses, upset tummies, runny eyes and symptoms of all kinds. Which illnesses put other children at risk, and which are harmless? Where is the line for keeping your own little ones at home?

Here’s a primer to help separate the good guys from the bad guys.

The common cold is called common for a reason. The average child catches eight of these suckers a year. Contagious? Yes, very. Symptoms include runny nose, congestion, cough, mild sore throat and fever. Prevention depends on avoiding other children with symptoms, frequent hand washing and use of hand sanitizers when soap and water aren’t available, and good hygiene, including teaching your child to sneeze or cough into a bent elbow.

Treatment of a cold consists of lots of fluids and an extra dose of TLC.

Flu symptoms may be similar to those of a cold on steroids. Fever tends to be high, up to 104 F, and kiddos feel awful, with muscle aches and general malaise. The flu can be serious. Contagious? Yes, very. But the good news is it can be prevented with the flu vaccine. All adults and children over 6 months should get it.

Treatment of the flu consists largely of comfort measures and over-the-counter remedies, but remember that children under six should not use cough remedies and decongestants — the risk of toxicity is too high.

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is very contagious. It’s a common viral illness that most often affects babies and children under 5. Symptoms include fever, mouth sores, and skin rash. Small blisters may be visible on the hands and feet. The virus is passed by direct contact with secretions or by touching anything touched by a person who has it. Frequent hand washing and avoiding the sharing of utensils and toys helps prevent spread.

There is no specific treatment but there are things you can do to help ease your child’s symptoms. Give OTC pain and fever relief. A dilute mixture of Maalox and children’s Benadryl can dull mouth pain, but ask your doctor before trying it.

Pinkeye or conjunctivitis may be viral or bacterial, and both are quite contagious. Avoid passing it to other family members with frequent hand washing. Avoid sharing towels and linens.

Because it’s often difficult to determine viral vs. bacterial, antibiotic drops are usually prescribed. Be sure to treat both eyes, even if only one looks to be infected. Most schools and day care centers expect you to keep your child at home until they have 24 hours of eyedrops under their belt.

Stomach flu isn’t actually the flu, it’s gastroenteritis, an upset stomach usually caused by a virus. Contagious? Yes, very. Symptoms include cramps, diarrhea, fever, and vomiting that usually improves within a few days. You get gastroenteritis through close contact with someone who has it or by eating food that’s been prepared or touched by someone who’s infected. Prevention depends on avoiding others who are sick, plus frequent hand washing.

There is no specific treatment. Give extra fluids for hydration and seek medical care if kiddo seems listless or can’t keep even sips down.

Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, affects about one in 10 babies and children. It is NOT contagious and begins as an itchy rash on the face, elbows, or knees that may spread to other areas. Eczema almost always appears before age 5. The rash gets better at times, but always comes back. Genes and environmental factors are believed to be the cause. You can’t prevent eczema, but your doctor can help prevent flare-ups and give tips to relieve symptoms.

Ear infections are NOT contagious, though the cold symptoms that often lead to them are. Fluid sits in the middle ear encouraging bacteria and viruses to grow, which leads to inflammation, pain and fever. To reduce  risk keep a healthy distance from people who are sick and wash hands frequently. Avoid exposing kiddos to cigarette smoke which increases the risk.

Treatment includes comfort measures for pain and fever. The majority of ear infections are caused by a virus and will not respond to antibiotics, but if symptoms don’t resolve in a few days antibiotics may be in order. Always have your child checked out if pain and fever persist.

Now that you know the basics, use this info to help keep all our kiddos healthy this winter. If symptoms are contagious keep yours at home if possible. Encourage frequent hand washing and good overall hygiene. Stay well!



Email This Post Email This Post

Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.

Warning: Illegal string offset 'echo' in /home/mamasonc/public_html/mama/wp-content/themes/hybrid/library/extensions/custom-field-series.php on line 157

Leave a Reply




With One or Both of Us

Go to & for the scoop!

Phone • Internet • Your Home or Group

Watch This!

Teach your kids to step in and step up when they see a classmate being teased. Show them how to respond and tell them what to say. Let's try to make our world a little kinder and a little warmer. Please?

What You Said

  • FirstBarry: I have noticed you don’t monetize your website, don’t waste your traffic, you can earn...
  • Rebecca Benham: My son woke up with bumps on his stomach help
  • Chelie Belie: AND up the street there’s a psychotic IT that is awe-struck by me! Walks by my property carrying...
  • Chelie Belie: I live next door to Ned Flanders–how would you like that??
  • Maggie sullivan: I have a neighbor, will holler and wave at me if i am near porch but if i try to sit in the yard, or...
  • Ellen Schrier: Thank you so much! Please come back often!
  • Ellen Schrier: Hi Lisa, Sorry for the very late response. We are sorry to hear about your daughter and are sure that...
  • Lisa jacobs: My daughter was in a car accident and now has a concussion. She is plan to go to Mexico City which is a...
  • RF: Well my baby had her first two bottom theeth at 10 months old and i tought so far so good and then now at 11...
  • ofertas cine: That is a great tip particularly to those fresh to the blogosphere. Brief but very precise info… Thanks...

Just so you know

The Mama ButtonThe information provided by MamasOnCall is not intended as a substitute for professional advice, but is for information purposes only. You assume full responsibility for the health and well-being of your family. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical or psychiatric condition.