Kids Health: Should You Worry Colds and Flu at Childcare?

When your child first starts going to day care, colds can come in quick succession. Should this be a worry?

We wave our little ones off to childcare, confident in the knowledge that they will be in safe, experienced hands and will learn valuable life skills as they interact and socialise with their peers, and that they will be exposed to plenty of stimulating activities.

Unfortunately, what we can also expect, especially in their first year of attendance, is plenty of exposure to the hundreds of viruses that cause colds.

Germs on the move

Young children who play together often get very physically close and the transfer of germs from their hands and mouths to toys and to other children is almost unavoidable. In such an environment, colds, gastro (gastroenteritis) and other infections can spread faster than a commando crawler.

It can sometimes seem that no sooner is your child over one snotty nose than another appears, especially in winter.

This is because there are more than two hundred different viruses that can cause a cold and each virus is slightly different, that is why you can get one cold after another.

Adults only have around two to four colds a year, a child in their first year of life may have around six to ten colds, with some children having up to a dozen. This is because adults have been exposed to more of these viruses throughout their life and have developed immunity against them.

So is it the case that day care causes your child to have more colds than normal, and is there anything you can do about it?

Now, rather than later

Dr Chris Dalton, National Medical Director of Bupa Australia, says that “most people accept that young children going to day care will have more viral infections, particularly upper respiratory tract [nose, mouth and throat] infections like a cold, than if they didn’t.”

However, he has reassuring news for parents of childcare-bound children. Being exposed to colds and other infections when you’re younger helps to develop your immune system so that your child will have fewer colds as they get older and in their early school years.
toddlers playing together

“Children who haven’t been to day care tend to go through the same process and get sick more often in their first year of school.”

Limit the spread of infection

There are steps that can be taken to limit the spread of infection, and your childcare centre should have policies in place regarding this. It is an important question to ask when you are considering a place for your child, as is checking policies on accepting sick children at the centre.

Regular hand-washing with soap and running water, disinfecting toys, and using alcohol hand wipes and sanitiser can all help limit the spread of infection, as can keeping your child at home when they are feverish or sick. Unfortunately, Dr Dalton says, “If they’ve got a runny nose they’ll probably still be infectious.”

He also says that it is important for all children to comply with the recommended immunisation schedule.

“That’s not going to protect them from the usual cold or gastro infections, but it will protect them against more serious childhood illnesses [like whooping cough and measles].”

If your child is constantly getting ill, then Dr Dalton recommends seeing your GP to check for an ear infection sometimes called glue ear (sticky fluid in the ear), snoring, or if they don’t seem to be gaining weight or growing as expected (which might indicate an immune deficiency), or any other issues that concerns you.

“However, most children will be normal and just unlucky, getting more colds than average.”

So while it may seem as if your young child is constantly battling one infection after another, be reassured that it shouldn’t last forever, and that their increased immunity will be better for them in the long run.
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