Back-to-School Illnesses: The Most Common Causes of Sickness and How to Prevent Them

Back-to-school season means school lunches, filled-to-capacity backpacks, and plenty of contagious illnesses to go around.

Now that kids are heading back to the classroom, their risk of getting sick will increase significantly. Mostly because kids are kids, and not touching everything and everyone in their immediate vicinity is apparently an unspoken crime against childhood.

Can these sicknesses be avoided? Sometimes — but not always. Here are the most common illnesses that affect kids during back-to-school season, what their signs and symptoms might look like, and what you can do (if anything) to prevent them.

The flu

Symptoms: Children may experience a fever, chills, headache, body aches, cough, sore throat, fatigue, or a runny or stuffy nose. Some of these symptoms look very similar to the common cold. But flu symptoms are usually more intense and last longer than severe cold symptoms.

Prevention: The flu is contagious — especially in classrooms occupied by younger children who don’t hesitate to share food or forget to wash their hands. Teach kids simple flu prevention tips such as washing their hands often, coughing into their elbows, and using hand sanitizer.


Back to school season

Back to school season | Highwaystarz-Photography/iStock/Getty Images

Symptoms: Colds usually begin mildly in the nose and throat, and signs and symptoms escalate from there. A child might first complain that their throat “tickles” or feels scratchy. This is often followed by a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, and/or a headache or a cough.

Prevention: A cold isn’t a life-threatening illness, but it can spread easily and quickly from person to person. Hand-washing is extremely important in the prevention of the common cold. Also teach kids how to properly cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing.

Strep throat

Symptoms: Children with strep throat will have red and swollen tonsils, swollen or painful neck glands, and a sore throat. It’s also common for kids with this illness to develop a fever, a headache, and have difficulty swallowing.

Prevention: Encourage kids not to share foods, drinks, eating utensils, cups, or other personal items with one another. A child who shows any of the above signs or symptoms should be kept home to keep it from spreading to other kids.

Stomach flu

School kids with tablets

School kids with tablets |

Symptoms: If a child has the stomach flu, they will likely develop a fever and act more tired or lethargic than usual. Vomiting and diarrhea are also common symptoms, as are an unusual decrease in appetite and irritability.

Prevention: Encouraging kids to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly both at home and at school is the best way to prevent the stomach flu. If a child shows signs of the stomach flu, keep them home to prevent the illness from spreading.

Pink eye

Symptoms: You’ll notice redness in the inner eyelid or white of the eye, a yellow discharge that forms a crust on the eyelashes, white or green discharge from the eyes, or an unusual amount of tears. A child might also complain about burning or itching eyes or blurry vision.

Prevention: Preventing pink eye follows the same guidelines as preventing any other contagious illness among children. Encourage frequent hand-washing and sharing of pillows or towels. Also encourage kids not to touch their faces — especially their eyes.

As a general rule for preventing the above illnesses as much as possible, make sure kids are eating well, staying active, and getting plenty of rest. All these things keep their immune systems strong and help fight off infections caused by germs.

Check out The Cheat Sheet