Back to school health

If your child's off to school for the first time, you're probably far more concerned about how they'll settle in than whether they'll be ill. But many common illnesses are easily passed on in the playground, and it's best to be prepared.

Tummy bugs

With these, it isn't a matter of if, but when. Most tummy bugs are caused by viruses which can be easily passed on through hand-to-hand contact - and there's lots of that at school! The main symptom is diarrhoea, which can last for a few days. Vomiting is also common, although this tends to settle within a day or so. They can eat if they want, but it's really important you get plenty of fluids (not fruit juice or fizzy drinks) into them. Tummy bugs are very infectious, so you need to keep your child off school until 48 hours after their symptoms have settled.

Sore throats

These are more common in the winter months, and often go along with a cough and cold. There are some symptoms which make it more likely your child has tonsillitis, which may need antibiotics. They include a sore throat without a cough; fever; tender swollen glands on the front of the neck; and white spots on the tonsils (you can ask your child to open their mouth wide for you to shine a torch onto the back of the throat to see). If your child has two or more of these, see your GP. Otherwise, simple painkillers like ibuprofen or paracetamol will help.


This bacterial skin infection is extremely infectious, and can spread like wildfire among primary school children in particular. It starts with small blisters which burst and leave a scab, often with a yellow-golden crust and red skin underneath. It often starts with a single patch, with more patches developing nearby over the next few days. Doctors usually advise treating it with antibiotics to stop it spreading - although it does usually settle within two or three weeks without treatment, your child might have infected a whole class by then!

Head lice

Just hearing the word 'nits' is enough to make most of us feel itchy, but these little crawlers are an almost inevitable rite of passage for the average schoolchild. They are just as likely to affect children with clean hair as dirty, and they can't fly, so need close head-to-head contact to move between people. Head lice lay eggs (seen as white 'nits') which hatch in 7-10 days, and grow into adults which can lay their own eggs within another 10 days. Normal combing and shampooing won't get rid of them.

Many kids with head lice won't get any symptoms - itchiness of the scalp happens when you become allergic to the lice, which can take months. They mostly live close to the scalp, where it's warm, and are often found first in the hair around the ears. The easiest way to check for them (and it may be worth doing regularly when your child is at school) is to use a detection comb from your pharmacist. After shampooing, condition and comb out all the knots from your child's hair. Comb with the detection comb from the roots and look for black insects the size of a sesame seed. You only need to treat if you find live head lice, not if your child just has nits (the white shell cases). You'll also need to check everyone in the family for lice and treat them, too, if you find live lice. Your pharmacist can advise on the options for treatment

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Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.