Does it seem like your children are always “catching” a cold from other kids in their preschool or neighborhood? While you can’t prevent your kids from ever getting sick, you can teach them good health habits, like hand washing, that may lessen their chances of becoming ill. Infectious diseases are caused by germs, such as viruses, bacteria and parasites. Contagious or communicable diseases are those that can be spread from one person to another, usually through bodily contact with a person or object. Infants and toddlers are highly susceptible to contagious diseases because they haven’t been exposed to many of the most common germs. Because of this, they haven’t built up resistance or immunity to them. Also, young children have many habits that promote the spread of germs. For example, they often finger their nose or put their fingers or other objects in their mouths, allowing germs easy entry to and exit from the body.
Infectious diseases that commonly occur among children are often contagious and may spread very easily from one person to another. The term incubation is used to describe the period when the infection is developing, but not yet symptomatic. Communicability is the period when the disease is contagious. Some diseases are communicable before you even see the first symptom and others can be spread when symptoms are apparent (chickenpox) or after symptoms have disappeared.
HOW DO GERMS SPREAD?
Most infections are spread from person to person. Germs are present on the skin or in the body fluids of an infected person. Germs are then either passed directly (coughing on hands) or indirectly (by contaminating the environment). Usually, germs are present on the skin or in infectious body fluids, such as discharge from the eyes, nose, mouth or intestinal tract, allowing the germs to travel through the air (they only travel less than 3 feet so close contact is important) and/or land on a surface. And in order for a person to become sick, that person, when not immune to the germ, must come in contact with or be exposed to the germs in a way that leads to infection. Germs need a way to get into the body through an opening, such as the eyes, nose, mouth or genitals.
CONTAGIOUS OR NOT?
Preventing the needless spread of illness is important, so determining when it’s safe for your child to return to school after an illness can be tricky. The chart on the back will give you an idea of the incubation and contagious period for some common illnesses. This chart should be used as a general guideline and should not replace the advice of your pediatrician.
KEEP IN MIND
|DISEASE||TRANSMISSION||INCUBATION PERIOD||CONTAGIOUS PERIOD|
|Bronchiolitis||Spread via respiratory droplets through sneezing or coughing||2 to 10 days||Onset of cough until 7 to 10 days|
|Chickenpox (Varicella)||Airborne or via skin contact with lesions||10 to 21 days||2 days before rash appears until all sores have crusted|
|Colds||Spread via respiratory droplets or direct contact with infected person or object||2 to 4 days||Onset of runny nose until fever is gone
|Croup (viral)||Spread via respiratory droplets or contact with infected person or object||2 to 6 days||Onset of cough until fever is gone
|Diarrhea||Contact with feces||Depends on causative agent (bacterial 1 to 7 days; viral 1 to 4 days)||Depends on causative agent; usually until stools are formed. (See specific agents)
|Fifth Disease (Parvo virus)||Spread via respiratory droplets||Usually 4 to 14 days, but can be as long as 21 days||7 days before rash until rash begins|
|Hand-foot-mouth (Coxsackie)||Spread via respiratory droplets, fecal/oral contact or fluid from blisters||3 to 6 days||Onset of mouth ulcers until fever is gone (respiratory tract shedding usually 1 week; fecal can be several weeks)
|Hepatitis A||Fecal contact||15 to 50 days||1 to 2 weeks before jaundice begins until 1 week after onset of jaundice
|Hepatitis B||Contact with infected blood/body fluids||45 to 160 days||Indefinite period. If Hepatitis e antigen is positive, at risk for transmission|
|Herpes Simplex||Oral/genital skin contact||2 days to 2 weeks||Initial infection: 1 week to several weeks (oral/genital). Recurrent infection: 3 to 4 days
|Impetigo||Direct skin contact with lesion and contact with infected objects||7 to 10 days||Onset of sores until 1 day on antibiotics
|Influenza||Spread via respiratory droplets or contact with infected person or object||1 to 4 days||24 hours before onset of symptoms until fever is gone, about 7 days
|Lice||Spread via contact with skin or hair||10 to 14 days||Onset of itch until 24 hours after first treatment
|Meningococcus||Spread via respiratory droplets||1 to 10 days||7 days before symptoms to 24 hours after treatment begins
|Mononucleosis||Contact with infected saliva||30 to 50 days||Undetermined, but usually 6 weeks
|MRSA||Spread via contact with infected person, person who is a carrier of the disease, or contaminated surface.||One to 10 days||Varies depending on whether infection is active and if person is seeking treatment|
|Pertussis (whooping cough)||Spread via respiratory droplets||Five to 21 days||Two weeks after onset of cough or until five days on antibiotics
|Pink-eye or Conjunctivitis (bacterial)||Spread via contact with eye drainage
||2 to 7 days||Onset of pus until symptoms have resolved
|Rotavirus||Direct or indirect contact with infected people||2 to 4 days||Before onset of diarrhea until 10 to 12 days after onset
|Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter||Fecal contact||Salmonella - 12 to 36 hours
Shigella & Campylobacter - 1 to 7 days
|Contagious until diarrhea is resolved; sometimes with prolonged excretions with salmonella
|Scabies||Contact with clothing, bedding or skin of infected animal or person||4 to 6 weeks (previous exposure 1 to 4 days)||Onset of itch until one treatment completed
|Scarlet fever||Spread via airborne respiratory droplets and direct contact||1 to 2 days||Onset of fever or rash until 1 day on antibiotics
|Sore throat (viral)||Spread via respiratory droplets||2 to 5 days||Onset of sore throat until fever is gone|
|Strep throat||Spread via respiratory droplets||2 to 5 days||Onset of sore throat until 1 day on antibiotics|
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