WASHINGTON — Schools and day care centers across the area are seeing an increase in the number of students stuck at home sick.
“This month, we have seen spikes in absences due to the flu, colds and stomach viruses in isolated classrooms and schools,” said Kimberly Hill, superintendent of Charles County Schools, in a letter to parents.
Parents have a lot of hard decisions to make if a child appears to be coming down with an illness — deciding when to keep them home from school, when to send them back, and when, in some cases, to take them to the emergency room.
“If you have the real flu, you’re going to be sick for a week to a week and a half,” said Dr. Erik Schobitz, a pediatric emergency physician at Shady Grove Medical Center, in Rockville, Maryland.
When a child starts showing the telltale symptoms of the flu, which include sneezing, coughing and high fever, he said, keep them home. Schobitz said parents shouldn’t consider sending their children back to school or preschool until they go at least 24 hours with no fever and the coughing and sneezing has stopped.
For many kids, time, rest, fluids and Tamiflu will get them through the illness. For younger children, the illness can be much more dangerous. This flu season, more than 35 children around the nation have died of the flu, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
Schobitz said parents of young children should remain extra-vigilant.
“You want to look for signs of respiratory distress, because that’s not something you can wait for,” Schobitz said.
The signs of respiratory distress, according to Schobitz, include fast breathing which isn’t only a result of a fever. Belly breathing is another sign that you should seek medical attention for your child.
“You see [it’s] almost like a seesaw — their belly pops up and their chest caves in with each breath,” Schobitz said.
Chest retractions, which are the sucking in of skin around the bones in the chest during breathing, are another indication your child needs to go to the emergency room.
“If you see that as a parent, or if you just look at your kid and say ‘I don’t care what the guy on the radio said; my kid looks sick to me,’ bring them in,” Schobitz said.