If you have kids, here are a few relevant progress reports: In-person learning is beginning anew (albeit with revised mask-wearing recommendations), camps are re-opening, and toddlers are returning to day care, while organizations like the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are offering guidelines for childcare programs, educators, and parents to help navigate the realities of post-Covid-19-vaccine life.
This is all good news! This is all… still somewhat confusing. And if you’ve decided to open the doors of day care for your young toddler, there’s another reality you might face: The why-is-my-kid-always-sick? scenario. The basic truth is that the more your child is around others, the more likely potential germs and illnesses are to spread. Wait, don’t shut those doors! There are reasons why this might occur — not necessarily relating to Covid-19 — and knowledge that can help you pilot through the sneeziest, most congested of times.
Why Does It Seem Like My Kid Is Always Getting Sick?
Here’s the deal: If your little one is starting day care, or entering a multi-child setting for the first time, then the answer is… yeah, you might want to stock up on hand soap and tissues. “Yes, it is expected that young children will experience more episodes of various infections, especially involving respiratory and GI symptoms, when starting into a day care and school environment,” says Dr. Stanley Spinner, Chief Medical Officer and Vice President of Texas Children’s Pediatrics and Texas Children’s Urgent Care. “This is due to the increased exposure of the many infectious germs that the child will be exposed to in that new environment.”
You also want to consider, “young children have not yet learned good hygiene so they sneeze and cough without using their elbow to cover, they put their fingers and toys in their mouths, their runny noses drip until someone else wipes for them, they reach into diapers and pants without washing,” Danette Glassy, M.D., tells Romper. But they’ll learn!
Keep in mind, if the practices of masking and distancing are dropped, a snifflier season than last may be more likely. “Upper respiratory viruses are so clever — they attack us through the air as we breathe in particles left by someone’s sneeze or cough, or even talking. And they attack us by surviving on surfaces for us to touch, then introduce to our eyes, nose, or mouth,” says Glassy.
Now let’s stop and take into account the events of the last year: What if a child was going to day care, but stopped for, say, six months or a year? Would a string of colds, illnesses, or viruses be expected again? It’s a nebulous prediction, as every kid and their environment is different, and, as Spinner points out, the amount of exposure can also vary. “I would anticipate a young child returning to a day care environment after six [to] 12 months without exposure would experience some bouts of illness early on.”
Is It A Good Thing If My Kid Is Exposed To Germs?
You’ve likely heard, at one time or another, that a frequent or early exposure to germs might be a good thing, that it could “toughen up,” or strengthen your immune system. Turns out, there’s a bit of truth to the idea, says Spinner. “One does start to develop more resistance to infections with repeated exposures, however, this does not necessarily mean that one’s immune system is stronger. Under the usual circumstances, we are born with an intact immune system, but exposure is necessary in many cases before our immune system can adequately protect us from the germs that can make us sick.” Keeping newborns away from potential exposures, and adopting the vaccine schedule given by the American Academy of Pediatrics and CDC, are things you might hear from doctors, says Spinner.
Katie Lockwood, pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of a Philadelphia, tells Romper: “In some cases, being exposed to certain illnesses at an early age builds up immunity to those infections, so they don’t get them again later on. This may help children who were in day care have fewer absences during kindergarten. However, not all illnesses work this way and for example, getting a stomach bug in daycare won’t protect you from getting a stomach bug later on.”
“Most of the deadly respiratory illnesses are prevented with vaccines — measles, whooping cough, influenza and hopefully soon COVID-19 — so the self-limited viruses build the non-specific part of our immune system,” says Glassy, who explains that “we all have a non-specific part of our immune system that can neutralize invading germs before they cause an infection. This non-specific defender gets stronger with the more infections that happen. So you can think of this as a muscle that gets stronger from the ‘exercise’ of responding to infections.”
How Many Colds Is Too Many Colds? When Should I Be Worried?
This can be tough to say; again, every child is different. Spinner tells Romper, “A young child in a day care or school environment will have between six [to] eight episodes of upper respiratory tract infections during a typical year.” Spinner adds that most of those infections would be mild, running their course in seven to 10 days. “A parent should contact their pediatrician if their child has fever lasting more than three days into the onset of the infection, develops fever several days into the infection, when the child was initially not febrile, or starts to show more severe symptoms, such as fast or shallow breathing, diminished fluid intake more than one day, or vomiting lasting longer than 12 hours.”
However, Spinner shares, if a parent or caregiver is nervous or concerned at any point in a child’s illness, reach out to a pediatrician. There is little point to being bashful with your doctor, especially if your gut is telling you that something is off.
What Can I Do To Keep My Kid From Getting Sick All The Time?
Caregivers can do a few things, says Lockwood. “First, learn about what the cleaning practices for infection control are at your day care,” Lockwood tells Romper. “Second, recognize that illnesses are common during childhood, and plan accordingly to have back-up childcare plans for sick-day coverage. Third, teach [children] age-appropriate tips for staying healthy, such as not touching their face or picking their nose and washing their hands.”
It’s true, one of the best things to do to avoid getting sick is likely something you and your family have already been doing: Frequent hand-washing can help curb the germ-spread. And not just a quick suds-and-rinse, you want a good 20 seconds on that lather (that’ll get you through Baby, Mommy, Daddy, and even Grandma Shark, depending on your singing tempo).
You can also consider the CDC recommendations for lowering the passing of Covid-19. “We can reduce GI virus infections with tight fitting diapers, proper hygienic procedures, changing diapers/toileting, and proper hand hygiene, cleaning/sanitizing. But there can be outbreaks of diarrhea if procedures are not followed. We just don’t have a way to reduce spread of respiratory viruses except with masking,” says Glassy. Also, you can do your best to keep kiddos home when they’re unwell (which can be tough!) — every effort helps.
Dr. Danette Glassy, MD, FAAP
Dr. Katie Lockwood, pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of a Philadelphia
Dr. Stanley Spinner, Chief Medical Officer and Vice President of Texas Children’s Pediatrics and Texas Children’s Urgent Care