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Why Do Kids Get Sick When They Go Back to School?

Mom and kid sick home from school

Why Do Kids Get Sick When They Go Back to School?

It seems that every year, young children head off to school after summer break and then just as quickly get sick and have to spend a few days at home recovering. And it’s not just one kid. It’s the entire class. Stopped-up ears, stuffy noses, and mild fevers are nothing new. 


Surely it can’t be a coincidence. There has to be a reason that school is a kind of incubator for colds and infections.


If you’re a parent wondering why kids get sick when they go back to school, then this article is for you. There are a handful of medical reasons why kids get sick when they go back to school. It’s not all in your head. And while close contact with children almost inevitably leads to sickness at some point, we’re going to share a few tips for minimizing the back-to-school malaise.


3 Medical Reasons Why Kids Get Sick When They Go Back to School

We’d love it if all kids washed their hands regularly and covered their coughs with a handkerchief. But schools can rarely enforce those levels of hygiene. Even if they could, kids would likely still get sick for a number of reasons that go beyond “kids don’t practice the best hygiene.”


1. School is a Hub for Cross-Contamination

Each kid has their own, unique home life, which means any illness going around the home will probably make it to school. A mother goes on a business trip and picks up a fever. A sibling stays up too late at a sleepover and gets a chest cold. 


As doctors know, viruses and bacteria mutate. The flu in Minnesota might not be the same flu in Vermont. Therefore, a child with a cold might pass on that cold to another child whose immune system doesn’t know how to fight it off. Because schools can introduce students to new diseases in such close quarters, sickness can snowball quickly through the classroom. 


2. Kids are Still Developing their Immune Systems

Immune systems take time to develop and kick in. There’s an element of memory involved in each immune response. When the body has dealt with a similar illness before, it’s able to produce the right amount of white blood cells and antibodies to deal with the threat. But the immune system isn’t fully developed until age 7-10. So that means kids can easily get sick when they go back to school. 


3. School Happens During Peak Cold Season

December through March are the peak months for colds and flu. And this covers the bulk of the school year. If schools were in session from May to August, we might be able to point a little more blame on school itself, but it just so happens that school occurs during some of the worst months for sickness.


3 Ways to Boost Your Kid’s Immune System and Prevent Sickness

1. Maintain a Healthy Diet

Fruits and vegetables will boost your kid’s immune system during the cold season–specifically foods rich in vitamins like citrus, bell peppers, and broccoli. But beyond the traditional vitamins for immune support, it’s important that kids get enough protein to assist in their bodies’ growth. Make sure the healthy diet is in place before the illness occurs for the best chance of fighting it off. That way you can do your best to prevent kids getting sick when they go back to school.


2. Get Enough Sleep

Sleep is a critical part of immune support. With mobile devices and handheld gaming systems on the rise, many kids fail to get enough sleep each night. Extracurriculars can also cut into much-needed REM sleep. Therefore, try your best to keep kids to a regular bedtime routine that allows for at least eight hours of sleep each night. With proper sleep, the body is able to heal and fight against sickness when kids go back to school.


3. Stay Home When You’re Sick

The best way to stop a class-wide sniffles outbreak is to keep sick kids home. We all know the stereotype of kids finding sneaky ways to fake symptoms, but it’s hard to fake a runny nose and a fever. If you notice your kid is experiencing symptoms, consider keeping them home if that works for your family’s current situation. With proper rest, your child can heal faster and prevent back to school sickness in the classroom.


Get Your Kids Back to School Feeling Healthy and Energetic

With GatherWell, you can get your kids tested for a range of health issues–including kids’ back to school illnesses. Once tested, you can get them the treatments and prescriptions they need. Some of our most popular tests are for flu, strep, and other respiratory illnesses. Don’t guess: Test!


To get started, all you need to do is click the button at the top of our website, select the test you’d like, and find a time that’s convenient. All of our testing centers have drive-through accessibility, which makes testing your kid for back to school sickness a breeze. 


Learn more about our testing services.