Searching for the right day care center for your child is a difficult task. Keeping them healthy is an even tougher one. Unfortunately, with the return to day care inevitably comes the spread of germs that can cause an array of health issues, such as ear infections, colds, coughs, sore throats, runny noses, fever, vomiting and diarrhea.
If your child is currently attending day care, how can you keep them from getting sick? Stopping the spread of germs may seem like a daunting task, but there are a number of simple steps parents, caregivers and day care staff can take to promote good health. Michael G. Hunt, DO, an osteopathic pediatrician from St. Louis, discusses common health issues found in child care settings and provides strategies to help maintain your child’s well-being.
How to Stop the Spread of Infections
Vaccinations are the best point of defense. “Make sure to keep your child up-to-date with routine shots, including a flu shot every year after age 6 months to prevent both common and serious infections,” says Dr. Hunt.
He also recommends teaching children basic hygiene techniques to help avoid passing germs to their classmates, such as using a tissue to cover their sneezes and coughs or their sleeve if tissue is not available. He also encourages parents to make hand washing a priority. “Teach your children to wash their hands well before eating and after using the toilet; and get them in the routine of using hand sanitizer if soap and water is not available,” Dr. Hunt says.
Properly washing hands can go a long way in reducing germs and avoiding serious complications for both children and day care workers. Along with children, day care staff should also make frequent hand washing a habit. “Don’t be afraid to ask the day care director for a copy of their written rules regarding hygiene,” says Dr. Hunt.
The ideal day care center should require staff to wash their hands often and in between touching every child. “If the day care does not have a sink in every room, check for bottles of hand sanitizer,” he adds.
Children attending day care centers are at a higher risk of getting hepatitis A, a virus which causes irritation and swelling of the liver. The virus can easily spread to children through food prepared by day care staff who fail to thoroughly wash their hands after going to the bathroom or changing a diaper. To help prevent the spread of this virus, in addition to good hand washing Dr. Hunt recommends day care staff and children get the hepatitis vaccine.
Stay Up to Date on Standard Health Practices
Your child's day care center should have policies to help prevent the spread of germs, infections and common ailments such as scabies and lice. “Before your child starts attending day care, ask to see these policies and find out if staff has been properly trained,” says Dr. Hunt. Day care staff should know policies for:
Preparing food and changing diapers in different areas.
Cleaning and sanitizing supplies, especially toys since a majority of children easily become sick after placing dirty toys in their mouth. Ideally, day care staff should clean and sanitize toys at least once a day and set aside toys that children place in their mouths.
Taking care of different skin conditions.
Recognizing when a chronic medical problem is getting worse and when to contact a child's physician.
Administering medicines for conditions such as asthma.
Parents of asthma sufferers can help day care staff by creating an action plan, which includes written instructions, permission for giving medication and contact information for the child’s physician. “Also, make sure your child knows how to describe his or her asthma, so that day care staff can act as quickly as possible at the first sign of an attack,” stresses Dr. Hunt.
Plan Ahead for Sick Days
“Your best chance at helping your child and others stay healthy is to keep them home when they are sick,” says Dr. Hunt. He stresses keeping sick children, especially those with diarrhea, fever, cough or breathing problems, home until a physician confirms they are well enough to return to the day care center.
“The best way to prepare for those unavoidable sick days is to plan ahead,” says Dr. Hunt. He encourages parents to make provisions for alternate dependable care in case their child needs to be picked up early from the day care. He also urges parents when they initially register their child for day care to provide the day care director with the numbers of emergency contacts along with information on the child’s physician, hospital of choice, and child’s medical history, including their immunization record.
Head Start on Good Health
It’s important for parents to carefully review and discuss the day care’s policies on sanitation, hygiene and sick leave. Dr. Hunt encourages parents to work together with day care staff to create a safe environment for their child.
“Be open about changes to your child’s health and discuss hygiene concerns with the day care staff,” says Dr. Hunt. “Also keep in mind that knowledge, awareness and cooperation are the building blocks for creating a safe and sound space for everyone.”