2B: Notes from School Nurses

“Colds” and “Flu” 

WHAT ARE THEY?  Colds” and “flu” are respiratory illnesses – infections of the head and chest – that are caused by viruses.  Colds can cause a stuffy nose, runny nose (with clear or greenish mucus), headache, sneezing, watery eyes, sore throat, and cough.  The flu can also include fever, achiness, and fatigue.  People with colds are usually mildly ill for a week.  People with the flu are ill a little longer.   

HOW ARE THEY SPREAD?  Colds and flu are spread by contact with mucus from the nose or saliva.  They can be spread by coughing and sneezing, kissing on the lips and sharing food, eating utensils and mouthed toys.  They are also spread by touching your hands to your nose and mouth, re-using tissues, and forgetting to wash your hands after nose blowing.  They spread most easily in crowded, poorly-ventilated and overheated rooms.

WHEN ARE THEY CONTAGIOUS?  Colds and flu start being contagious 1-2 days before the symptoms start and in the first 1-2 days of the illness.  They become less contagious over the course of the illness.  After exposure to colds and flu, it usually takes several days to become ill. 

HOW ARE THEY DIAGNOSED AND TREATED?  Colds are diagnosed by the common symptoms.  Flu is diagnosed by a doctor and may require medical treatment due to secondary infections (pneumonia).  Generally, no medication is needed to treat colds and flu.  The best treatment is to help the body’s own defenses fight the virus by a few simple measures:  adequate rest, nutrition, and plenty of liquids to drink.  Home remedies such as chicken soup and teas (without caffeine) are fine.  A vaporizer can help relieve congestion.  In general, medications such as antihistamines, decongestants and antibiotics do not help children’s colds and flu and can occasionally be dangerous.  You don’t need to bundle children up or keep them indoors – just dress them appropriately for the weather and their own comfort.  Children who are uncomfortable with fever may be given acetaminophen – never give aspirin since it can contribute to a fatal condition called Reye’s Syndrome.  

SHOULD THE CHILD STAY HOME?  A child with a cold does not need to stay home as long as she/he is fever-free and feeling well enough to participate in the program’s activities.


  • ❖Caregivers should consider getting a yearly influenza vaccine to protect them against a common cause of the “flu.”  This is highly recommended for the elderly and people with immune problems or chronic illnesses such as asthma and heart disease.

  • ❖Cough and sneeze into your elbow and away from people.  If you cough or sneeze into your hand or a tissue, wash your hands afterward.

  • ❖Wipe runny noses with a clean tissue, throw the tissue away, then wash your hands.

  • ❖Don’t share food, pacifiers, bottles, or toothbrushes.  Wash eating utensils and drinking cups well between uses.

  • ❖Clean and disinfect mouthed toys and dining tables after each use.  Clean and disinfect water fountains, telephone receivers, and other frequently handled items daily.

  • ❖Discourage nose picking.  Try to limit touching the eyes, nose and mouth.

  • ❖Don’t kiss children on the mouth – hug them and kiss them on the forehead instead.

  • ❖Maximize outdoor play and indoor ventilation.

MESSAGE FROM THE NURSE . . . When your child isn't feeling well 

One of the most common problems parents face occurs when a child complains of being “sick” on a school day.  Often a child will wake up not feeling well, with such complaints as a stomach ache, headache, etc.  Making a decision as to whether the child should stay home or go to school is not always easy. 


Children are known to have been kept at home from school for reasons other than illness.  Unnecessary absence from school may have a negative effect on a student’s attitude, work habits, and progress.


You do not want to keep a child home if he really is not sick; but, you also do not want to send a sick child to school.

The common cold presents the most frequent problem to parents.  A child with a “mild” cold, but otherwise feeling well, may go to school.  A child with a “heavy” cold and a deep or hacking cough belongs home in bed even though he has no fever. 

If your child complains of a sore throat and has no other symptoms, he may go to school.  If white spots can be seen in the back of the throat or if fever is present, keep him home and call your doctor. 

Toothache – consult your dentist.

Earache – consult your doctor without delay.

Headache – a child whose only complaint is a headache usually need not be kept home.

Consult your doctor if your child has a stomach ache which is persistent or severe enough to limit his activity.  If vomiting occurs, keep your child home until he can keep his food down.  A child with diarrhea should be kept home.  Call your doctor if prompt improvement does not occur. 

A fever is a warning that all is not right with the body.  A child with a temperature over 100 degrees should not be sent to school.  The student should be fever-free for twenty-four (24) hours before returning. 


  • Keep the nurse informed of any illness or contagious disease.

  • Call the school office if your child will be absent.