Happy Healthy Hump Day: Preventing Illness from Infection in Early Education/Child Care and Schools

Posted: June 28, 2017  

Many children are enrolled in group settings from infancy. Mine were. Both were in center-based daycare/early education programs directly after my maternity leave. We were lucky. My husband worked at a hospital with a daycare center. Even so, I worried about them getting sick all the time. While you would think a hospital daycare would be all antiseptic and for the most part probably is. But, just remember healthcare workers with all those germs on their clothing were walking in and out picking up their kids all day. Remember that study they did on physician’s ties?

For other families, their daycare settings include informal neighborhood arrangements, more organized group care in home-based settings, and schools for older children. No matter the type or size, having your kids in a group setting increases the risk of the spread of infectious diseases. One good thing, national statistics show that children who are enrolled in group care settings have a higher rate of immunization than those who do not participate in such arrangements.

Families and educators can manage infectious diseases in early education/child care and schools in the following ways:

  1. Choose a childcare setting wisely. See if the program is rated in a state quality rating improvement system that measures overall program quality. And, inquire about whether the facility has access to a health consultant who might be available to assess the program’s operation to see whether any additional measures can help reduce the risk of infection.
  1. Keep children in child care up to date with their vaccines.
  1. Practice routine hand hygiene. Key times are on arrival and when leaving the early education/child care facility, and when arriving at home. Hand washing with soap and water is best. The child and the child’s family members have increased exposure to infectious diseases as they come and go in the group care setting.  First year of group care may increase the frequency of respiratory illness by 1-2 episodes more than what children experience in that same period if cared for only at home without other children around. For infants, the usual frequency of 6-8 respiratory infections in the first year may increase to 7 to 10 such illnesses. Although frequency of illness may increase when in the group setting, severity will likely not change and remain mild.
  1. Develop a plan with your healthcare provider for care of children with special needs. Provide these care plans in writing to all teachers/caregivers involved in the child’s care. Where the child’s care plan includes special procedures, such as administering albuterol treatments for asthma, arrange for all the child’s teachers/caregivers to learn from a health professional how to perform these procedures.
  1. Use antibiotics in accordance with current recommended practices. Treatment with antibiotics contributes to the development of resistant bacteria. Be aware that many families and early education staff are not aware of changes in recommendations to avoid using antibiotics for the common cold, non-specific cough, ear infections or sore throats without evidence that bacteria are causing these problems.

Childcare, early childhood education programs and schools can be a hotbed of infections that contribute to illness not only for our children but for the entire family. The five simple steps above can help you protect your kids and contribute positively to the other children they come in contact with as well.

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