Is It Covid Or A Back-To-School Bug? Here's When To Keep Your Kids Off

Children are often poorly at the start of term. Here's why and the symptoms to look out for.

The start of the school term often brings snot, coughs and dodgy tummies. But the last 18 months has taught us all to be hyper-vigilant about health, so we’re looking at back-to-school bugs a little differently.

Previously, we may have sent children into the classroom with a mild sniffle, but now, with Covid still a factor, parents may be wondering whether to keep kids home. We’ve also been warned that cases of norovirus are likely to spike this September, just to add fuel to the fire.

But why do kids get poorly at the start of term anyway? And when they’ve already missed so much school last year, when’s the correct time to keep them off? Dr Sameer Sanghvi, who’s clinical technology lead at Lloyds Pharmacy Online Doctor, answered our questions.

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Why do kids get ill at the start of the school term?

“Often children (and teachers) get ill at the start of term because they’re suddenly exposed to lots of people, after a summer often spent mainly with a small number of family and friends,” says Dr Sanghvi.

“The more people you mix with, the more likely you are to catch and spread germs off one another. And we all know children, even after the last year, aren’t quite as good as adults at good hygiene practices like washing their hands thoroughly, covering their faces when they cough and blowing their noses etc.”

The start of term can also be very tiring, especially for young children, who aren’t as used to being sat in a classroom all day.

“When we get tired our immune systems sometimes find it harder to fight off bugs. So this can also mean kids (and anyone who works in a school) might be more susceptible to picking something up,” Dr Sanghvi explains.

“Coughs, colds and norovirus can all be very contagious, particularly in an environment like a school, where you have lots of people in one room for long periods of time.”

What are the most common symptoms of Covid in kids?

By now, we all know the importance of self-isolating if you’ve got Covid. But kids get a lot of sniffles at school, so how can you tell the difference?

“Like with adults, the main symptoms of Covid-19 in children are still a high temperature, a new, continuous cough and a loss or change of taste or smell,” says Dr Sanghvi.

“With the start of term it’s likely lots of kids will get a cough, cold or runny nose. But if you think your child has Covid-19 symptoms, you should book them a test. That’s the easiest way to confirm if it is or isn’t Covid-19.”

If it’s not Covid, is it okay to go to school?

“It can be hard knowing when to keep a child off school. Sometimes it’s okay to send them in with a mild illness, but other times it better to keep them at home,” says Dr Sanghvi.

“If your child has Covid-19 symptoms, you should get them a test and keep them off school unless they get a negative result.

“Generally speaking, if your child has a fever, they should be off school until it’s gone (unless it’s due to Covid-19, in which case they’ll need to self-isolate and follow the advice from Test and Trace).”

As a rule, if your child has been sick or has diarrhoea, they should be off school for 48 hours from the last time they vomited or had diarrhoea, she adds.

“The NHS has lots of advice for different conditions like cold sores, chicken pox, impetigo and many others, and when to keep your kids off school,” says Dr Sanghvi. “So it’s always best checking their website, and don’t forget if you’re worried about your child, you can always ring up your GP and speak to them.”