Back-to-school health watch

The start of school is an exciting time for many families, but it can often mean sick children. The close quarters of a classroom can become a breeding ground for germs of all sorts including bacteria, fungi and parasites. This is especially true if children spent their summer vacation travelling to new environments.

“Close contact during summer activities including day camps, contact with animals from farms or visits to families and friends with pets can mean children are bringing different bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites to school,” says Dr. Lee Goneau, Scientific Director of Microbiology at Dynacare. “Exposure to these germs can result in children contracting communicable infections which could then spread to their peers.”

The following are some of the common illnesses on Goneau’s list of back-to-school health concerns.

Common illnesses include:

Ringworm (Tinea capitis)

Causes an itchy, red, scaly rash on the scalp

Spread readily through direct (touching) and indirect (shared combs, clothing, hats) contact including contact with infected pets (such as cats)

Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

Causes rash on hands, feet and mouth and other parts of the body

Highly contagious and spread through contact with saliva and respiratory secretions

Pink eye (Conjunctivitis)

Causes red, itchy, irritated eyes with discharge

Highly contagious and spread through contact with the virus or bacteria to your eye

Head Lice

Lice are insects that feed on human blood through the scalp. They cause itchiness and irritation and lay their eggs in the scalp and hair

Contagious and spread through contact with hair or through hairbrushes or hats. Once more common with younger children, teens have also contracted lice due to close contact in “group selfies”


Causes inflammation of stomach and/or intestines which causes diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, fever and aches

Highly contagious virus known for spreading quickly in closed places like daycares and vacation cruise ships

Can be contracted eating or drinking contaminated foods, touching contaminated surfaces and then touching mouth, or having contact with someone who is infected

Influenza (flu)

Contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs

Can cause mild to severe illness and can lead to death in vulnerable populations.

Flu season in the tropics is year-round and from April to September in the Southern Hemisphere

Mononucleosis (mono) – teens and college students

Mono is a contagious disease caused by contact with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and other viruses.

Most common among teenagers and college students spread through bodily fluids, especially saliva

What can parents do to help prevent illness:

Encourage and teach children proper hand washing and to avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth

Remind children not to share personal items like water bottles, cups, hair- and tooth-brushes or hats with others, and be cautious about making contact with someone else’s head or hair

Put alcohol-free hand sanitizer on your back to school shopping list

Ensure children stay home when they’re sick (or have head lice) and remain home until they are no longer contagious (in the past few years, some major school boards in Canada have stated that they’re reviewing policies related to children with head lice)

Encourage children to cough or sneeze into their elbow or cover their mouth and nose using a tissue

Clean and disinfect items your child brings to and from school like iPads or toys. This can be done daily by washing with a general household cleaner, rinsing with water and then using a disinfectant like Lysol wipes or spray to ensure viruses and bacteria are eliminated.