Reducing the Spread of Illness in Child Care

Whenever children are together, there is a chance of spreading infections. This is especially true among infants and toddlers who are likely to use their hands to wipe their noses or rub their eyes and then handle toys or touch other children. These children then touch their noses and rub their eyes so the virus goes from the nose or eyes of one child by way of hands or toys to the next child who then rubs his own eyes or nose. And children get sick a lot in the first several years of life as their bodies are building immunity to infections.

In many child care facilities, the staff simply cannot care for a sick child due to space or staff limitations, although in others, the child can be kept comfortable and allowed to rest as needed in a separate area of the room where they have already exposed the other children. When waiting to be picked up, an ill child who is being excluded should be in a location when no contact occurs with those who have not already been exposed to their infection. Often, it is best for the child not to be moved to another space to prevent their illness from spreading throughout the facility and to maintain good supervision of the child. In some programs, a staff member who knows the child well and who is trained to care for ill children may care for the child to a space set aside for such care and where others will not be exposed. If the child requires minimal care for a condition that doesn’t require exclusion, there may a place for the child to lie down while remaining within sight of a staff member when the child needs to rest. In some communities, special sick child care centers have been established for children with mild illnesses who cannot participate or need more care than the staff can provide in the child’s usual care setting.

Even with all these prevention measures, it is likely that some infections will be spread in the child care center. For many of these infections, a child is contagious a day or more before he has symptoms. Be sure to wash your and your child’s hands frequently. You never know when your child or another child is passing a virus or bacteria. Sometimes your child will become sick while at child care and need to go home. You will need to have a plan so someone can pick him up.

Fortunately, not all illnesses are contagious (like ear infections). In these cases, there’s no need to separate your sick child from the other children. Most medications can be scheduled to be given only at home. If your child needs medication during the day, be sure that the facility has clear procedures and staff who have training to give medication. Ask what they do to be sure they have the right child, receiving the right medication, at the right time, by the right route and in the right dose–-and document each dose.

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