Should I send my child to school with a cold?

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  • Deciding whether you should send your child to school with a cold is never a simple decision – and it’s only got harder since the pandemic. 

    Sniffles and snotty noses used to be just another part of school life in the winter months. While kids would stay home with symptoms of flu or if they were really feeling under the weather, anyone who just had a cold would be off to school with a packet of Soothers in their bag. But new symptoms of the Delta variant mean that what was seen as normal in the past could actually be much more dangerous now.

    Here, clinical pharmacist and scientific advisor to Alive! Supplements, Mike Wakeman, and our own parenting editor, Stephanie Lowe, give their advice on when you should – and shouldn’t – send your child into school.

    Should I send my child to school with a cold?

    You can send your child to school with a cold, both the NHS and our expert pharmacist say.

    “It is fine to send your child to school with a minor cough or common cold symptoms, but if they have a fever, keep them off school until the fever goes,” Mike says. 

    Advice from the NHS issues a similar warning. If your child has a fever or a is giving a reading outside of the healthy temperature range for children (about 38C) then they should definitely stay at home. 

    Whether your child can go to school or not also depends on if they’re feeling well enough to work, though.

    As Stephanie says, “Medical advice, and the clear Covid symptoms, are a great guide and as a parent you know your child. You know if they’re not well and not themselves. I think we need to change the narrative around this dated ‘pushing through it’ culture. When you’re ill the best thing to do is rest.”

    She advises, “Snotty nose but still running around; I’d call ahead to the school to let them know but still send my child in. Snotty nose, temperature, lethargic and not at all themselves – I’d keep them off school or nursery. You’re the parent, you know your child.”

    If your child is well enough to go into school, encourage them to sneeze into a tissue, throw it away immediately and wash their hands regularly. Woman wiping son's nose on the sofa as he stays at home with a cold instead of going into school

    Credit: GettyAnd if they’re not well enough, you should call the school’s administrative office on the day to let them know that your child isn’t coming in. The school can then register this as an official absence due to sickness. 

    But as well as stocking up on natural cough remedies, it’s important to test any child feeling ill for coronavirus. 

    Mike says, “It can be tricky deciding whether or not to keep your child off school if they are unwell, especially as we continue to live with the existence of Covid-19. Firstly, I would strongly suggest that you test your child at home using the freely available NHS Rapid Flow Test. For children under 12 years, the test should be performed by an adult. ” 

    During the first outbreak, health officials told us that younger children are largely asymptomatic with the virus. But similarly to adults, the main symptoms of Covid-19 in kids are a loss of taste and/or smell, a continuous cough and a high temperature. Children can become very unwell with Covid-19 and these are all still indicators of coronavirus, but new symptoms have been added to the list of ones to watch out for.

    New indicators of Covid-19 infection include headaches, a sore throat and a runny nose; three symptoms that also correspond to a common cold. 

    As well as being eligible for regular testing, it’s worth noting that children aged 12 to 15 years old can get a Covid vaccine now. Previously, the vaccine was only available to those in this age group with serious underlying health conditions. Following advice from the JCVI, however, this guidance has changed.

    Can I send my child to nursery with a cold?

    Yes, children can go to nursery with a cold just as children can go to school with one.

    And similarly, nurseries wouldn’t necessarily expect your child to stay at home if they’re just a bit bunged up. But if they have a fever, flu or a contagious disease of any kind, it’s best they spend a couple of days at home to recover.

    It’s important to take coughs and colds in babies seriously, though. In the summer months, a runny nose could be the result of allergies as babies can get hay fever. But in the winter, any symptoms are likely to be more serious than that.

    Can my child go to school with a cough?

    Yes, children can go to school with a cough

    A cough is one of the biggest flags of coronavirus, though, so be sure to take them for a PCR test if they’re old enough before sending them into school.

    Child sitting with blanket around them

    Can my child go to school with a sore throat?

    Children can go to school with a sore throat, health experts say. 

    Most sore throats are the result of a minor virus that clears up on its own. But it’s important to look out for other symptoms that could indicate a bigger issue. Look out for a fever, red and swollen tonsils, painful or swollen neck glands. Along with a sore throat, these are symptoms of strep throat. It’s a very contagious illness and most cases do tend to be in school-age kids and teenagers.

    Most cases of strep throat need antibiotics. So it’s important to consult the child’s GP if they have any of these signs.

    When to keep your child home from school

    Coughs and colds are one thing but there are some illnesses where it’s important to keep your child off school – for their health and other children’s. 

    If your child has any of these conditions, they should stay at home for at least 48 hours: 

    • Chickenpox
    • Impetigo 
    • Flu 
    • Food poisoning (diarrhoea and vomiting) 
    • Measles 
    • Meningitis
    • Mumps
    • Rubella (German measles)
    • Scabies
    • Scarlet Fever (tonsillitis and other related throat infections) 
    • Whooping cough 
    • Ringworm 
    • Salmonella 
    • E.Coli 
    • Gastroenteritis (diarrhoea and vomiting)
    • Rotavirus (diarrhoea and vomiting)
    • Infections spread through the faeces, such as: Giardia, Bacillary dysentery, Campylobacter, Cryptosporidiosis. 
    • Hepatitis A

    If your child is technically well enough to go into school but has an infection that they can spread to others – like head lice or a cold sore – then they don’t have to stay at home. But it is important to let the teacher know so they can inform other parents and carers.

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