Guide to Contagious Conditions at School

Guide to Contagious Conditions at School

Schools can be petri dishes for certain health problems—an ideal place for contagious conditions to spread. Contagious conditions vary in their severity and in the manner they are spread. Here are the most common contagions and some tips to avoid them.

The Cold

The common cold is the most common illness to impact school children (and adults). On average, elementary school children get eight to 12 colds or cases of the flu each school year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Viruses that cause colds can spread from infected people to others through the air and close personal contact. This can happen when you shake hands with someone who has a cold or touch a doorknob that has viruses on it, then touch your eyes, mouth, or nose. Most people recover within about 7-10 days. The best way to prevent colds is wash your hands regularly, avoid contact with sick people, and get plenty of rest. School-age children should get 10 to 11 hours of sleep every night, according to the CDC.


The flu is one of the most serious illnesses that can be spread through schools. Flu is a virus that is spread through droplets when a sick person coughs or sneezes or by contact with a surface where droplets have landed, then touching the mouth, nose or eyes. Symptoms include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, body aches, fatigue, and stuffy nose. The best way to stop the spread of the flu beyond getting a flu shot is by covering coughs and sneezes and consistent hand-washing with soap and warm water. Those infected should stay at home at least 24 hours after the fever has gone.


Conjunctivitis, AKA pinkeye, is common and spreads easily, affecting 6 million people annually in the United States. There are four types of pinkeye, two of which are contagious: viral and bacterial pinkeye. Pinkeye can also be caused by allergens and by eye irritants. Symptoms of pink eye include: redness and swelling of the whites of the eye and the inside of the eyelids and yellow or green mucus-like substance that discharges in the corners of the eyes. Pinkeye is spread by coughing or sneezing or by touching someone that has had contact with someone with the condition. Most cases of viral conjunctivitis are mild. The infection will usually clear up in 7 to 14 days without treatment. Bacterial pinkeye can be treated with antibiotics.

Head Lice

A case of head lice is not technically an illness. Lice don’t transmit disease and the CDC does not consider them a health hazard. Lice are, however, contagious and in schools with “no nit” policies, a significant cause of students missing school. Lice cause itching and irritation on the scalp. Head lice spread primarily through head-to-head contact as they cannot jump or fly. Children get head lice more than adults do because children spend more time in close proximity at school, sleepovers, and other activities. It has been shown that 98 percent of head lice in 42 states are now resistant to the most common over-the-counter lice treatment products, adding to the stress and frustration for parents. A clinically proven solution that kills live lice and more than 99 percent of eggs (nits) is available at Lice Clinics of America, the world’s largest network of professional lice treatment centers.

Be Prepared

The severity and duration of these conditions can be lessened with early detection and response. It can be helpful to have products like ibuprofen, symptom reducers for colds and flus, and fever-reducing medications on hand. Lice Clinics of America also offers a non-toxic Lice Remover Kit for lice treatment at home and Lice Preventer Kit for prevention using a gel that lice are not resistant to.

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