Back-to-school bugs and how to beat them

Ill child in bed
Credit: iStock

Children can catch all kinds of back-to-school bugs at this time of year. We spoke to two doctors from London Doctors Clinic about the main culprits to watch out for

Symptoms of hand, foot and mouth

This disease is a common viral infection that causes mouth ulcers and spots on the hands and feet.

“Early symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease include a fever, loss of appetite, a cough and a sore throat,” says Dr Daniel Fenton, Clinical Director at the Private GP Clinic, London Doctors Clinic. “After a day or two, painful mouth ulcers develop and small, red spots may appear on the fingers, palms of the hands and soles of the feet.”

“It’s most common in young children, particularly those under 10,” he adds. “But it can affect older children and adults as well. Also, for any parents wondering, the infection is not related to foot and mouth disease, which affects cattle, sheep and pigs.”

How to cure hand, foot and mouth

The infection usually clears up itself in seven to 10 days. According to the NHS, this is what you can do to ease the symptoms:

  • Drink fluids to prevent dehydration – avoid acidic drinks such as fruit juice
  • Eat soft foods like soup
  • Take paracetamol or ibuprofen to help ease a sore mouth or throat – do not give children under 16 aspirin

Symptoms of tonsillitis

Tonsillitus is inflammation of the tonsils usually caused by a viral infection, or less commonly, a bacterial infection. The condition is most common in children, teenagers and young adults.

“The main symptom of tonsillitus is a sore throat with red swollen tonsils. Other common symptoms include white pus-filled spots on your tonsils, pain when swallowing, a fever, coughing, a headache, tiredness, pain in the ears or neck, and swollen glands in your neck,” says Dr Preethi Daniel, also a Clinic Director at London Doctors Clinic.

READ MORE: Is it measles, chickenpox or an allergic reaction? Everything you need to know about spots on your baby

How to cure tonsillitus

According to the NHS, this is what you can do to help ease the symptoms:

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Drink cool drinks to soothe the throat
  • Take paracetamol or ibuprofen – do not give children under 16 aspirin

Symptoms of chickenpox

One of the most common childhood illnesses – and almost impossible to avoid – is chickenpox, which causes a rash of red, itchy spots that turn into fluid-filled blisters after about 12 hours.

“A few days later, the blisters will crust over to form scabs that fall off after a week or two,” says Dr Daniel.

Credit: iStock

“The rash normally appears in clusters behind the ears, on the face, scalp, under arms, on the chest and belly, and arms and legs.”

“Constant desire to scratch the pox is probably the most frustrating aspect for parents and kids alike, but the condition tends to be mild and clears up naturally in a week or two.”

How to ease the symptoms of chickenpox

According to the NHS, this is how you can ease the symptoms of chickenpox:

  • Drink plenty of fluid (try ice lollies if your child isn’t drinking) to avoid dehydration
  • Take paracetamol to help with pain and discomfort
  • Put socks on your child’s hands at night to stop scratching
  • Cut your child’s nails
  • Use cooling creams or gels from your pharmacy
  • Speak to your pharmacist about using antihistamine medicine to help itching
  • Bathe in cool water and pat the skin dry (don’t rub)
  • Dress in loose clothes
  • Check with your airline if you’re going on holiday – many airlines won’t allow you to fly with chickenpox

For further advice, visit the NHS website.

Signs of head lice

Head lice are a common problem, particularly in school children aged four to 11 years, but they are totally harmless.

“These tiny insects live in our hair and can cause itchiness and general irritation,” explains Dr Fenton. “Lice and nits (the empty shell of head lice that have hatched) can quickly spread to other children from close contact, such as sharing hair brushes or touching heads.”

“Head lice can be treated with over-the-counter remedies from your local pharmacy, but for serious outbreaks, feel free to speak to your school nurse or your GP.”

“Some practical advice to help prevent your child from getting nits while at school is to encourage them to hang their clothes on separate pegs from other children, and spritz their clothes with anti-lice sprays, to kill any lice that may have jumped onto clothes.”

He adds, “There’s also some evidence to suggest that girls are more likely to get lice than boys because of their long hair. It may be best to keep hair tied up in braids or a bun, to lower the chances of lice being spread.”

How to get rid of head lice

According to NHS advice, the best thing to do is to buy a special fine-toothed comb (detection comb) online or from pharmacies to remove head lice and nits.

  • Use the comb on wet or dry hair, however, it works best on wet hair with conditioner
  • Comb the whole head of hair, from the roots to the ends
  • Repeat every few days for two weeks

Symptoms of scarlet fever

Scarlet fever, also called Scarlatina, is a bacterial infection that causes a blotchy, pink-red rash. It’s most common in young children, but can affect people at any age.

“Scarlet fever often starts with a sore throat, headache or fever,” says Dr Daniel. “A rash appears 12 to 48 hours later, starting as red blotches, but then turning into a pink-red rash that feels like sand paper.”

“The rash will then spread to other areas, commonly ears, neck, elbows, thighs and groin,” she explains. “The rash will turn white if you press a glass on it.”

“This condition isn’t usually serious and can be treated with antibiotics from your GP. The good news is, once you or your child have it, it’s unlikely that you’ll get it again.”

How can I cure scarlet fever?

According to the NHS, these practical steps should ease your symptoms, though it’s advised that you still see your GP.

  • Drink cool fluids
  • Eat soft foods to ease a sore throat
  • Take painkillers like paracetamol to bring down a temperature – do not give children under 16 aspirin
  • Use calamine lotion or antihistamine tablets to stop itching

How else can I avoid these back-to-school bugs?

“In truth, there’s little that can realistically be done,” says Dr Fenton. “If the bugs are out there, kids are going to catch them. However, there are a few things you can do to prevent your child getting ill.”

  • Stay up to date with immunisations
  • Get a good night’s sleep – teenagers need eight hours a night, while those at nursery-school-age should be getting around 12 hours per night.
  • Take it into your own hands – pack a small travel-sized hand sanitiser in your child’s school bag and encourage them to use it regularly.

READ MORE: 13 back-to-school tips every parent needs to know

If you’re concerned about your child’s health, seek further medical advice from your GP.

Want more information and inspiration on everything parenting and lifestyle? Just hit ‘Like’ on our Baby Facebook page, and ‘Follow’ on our @BabyMagazineUK Twitter account and you’re all set!