Tips on whether to keep your child home when they may be sick

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If you're a parent, you know it can be a tough call: is your kid sick enough to keep at home, or should they go to school? (KABC)

If you're a parent, you know it can be a tough call: is your kid sick enough to keep at home, or should they go to school?

Whether it's a cough, runny nose, or tummy ache, it often requires making a quick decision, so here's some advice from the experts at Consumer Reports.

That decision often has to be made on the spot before the school bus arrives, but it can be based on more than just a flip of the coin," said Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports' former chief medical adviser. "There are some commonsense guidelines that can help you decide what to do."

When it comes to cold symptoms, if your child doesn't have a fever, most agree that they can generally attend school, even with a runny nose or a slight cough.

"The important thing to pay attention to is whether they're too sick to participate in activities to pay attention and learn. And if they're so sick that it's going to take away from the teacher's ability to manage the classroom, that's when you need to think about keeping them home," said Lauren Friedman, Consumer Reports' health editor.

If your youngster vomited or had diarrhea once during the night, but otherwise seems fine before it's time to go to school - and they ate a normal breakfast and is fever free - it's reasonable to send them off to school.

But if it happened more than once, it's probably best to keep them home.

What about pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis? It's often caused by a viral infection. According to one statistic: kids miss more than 3 million days of school a year due to pink eye.

"So, the first thing you need to be concerned about with pink eye is whether your child's school has a policy, because many school's will require that you keep a kid with pink eye home," Friedman said. "So that should be your first order of business. If you're not required to keep your kid home, the important thing is to make sure they're taking general precautions, like washing their hands and not rubbing their eyes. That will help prevent them from spreading it."

If your child has head lice - that may seem like a clear signal to keep your child home. But according to an American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation, healthy children shouldn't be prevented from attending school because of nits, which are eggs - as long as the children are being properly treated.

However, you may need to check with school policy, because some schools require a child to be fully free of nits before returning to school.

And parents should always make sure if a child has lice, they don't share things like hats, helmets, and combs with anyone else.

What about ringworm, which is a contagious fungal skin condition that's easily spread by sharing infected hats, combs or hair barrettes? Pediatric experts said as long as it's covered by a shirt or a gauze bandage, there's very little risk of transmission. However, they should be excluded from activities that could spread it, like using communal swimming pools or showers, and should not share anything that touches their hair or skin.

If you can't cover it, check with your pediatrician to see whether or not you need to keep your child home for 24 to 48 hours after starting treatment for ringworm.
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