Daycare and school are environments conducive to the spread of infections. Here is some information for concerned parents who wish to prevent them.
Daycare: an environment full of life!
You only have to spend a few minutes observing the daily activities in a daycare centre to see how lively it is! It would seem that the little ones aren’t the only ones having a good time; unfortunately, there can also be germs.
Many of today's parents must rely on daycare to better balance work and family life. Daycare centres are living environments where well-being, safety, and optimal child development are a priority. Although they have a number of advantages for youngsters and their parents, the inconveniences, such as the risk of infections, cannot be ignored.
It has been shown that children who attend daycare full-time are up to three times more likely to contract infections than children of the same age who stay at home. However, this trend is reversed for school-aged children. Attending daycare seems to have a "protective" effect, enabling children to strengthen their immunity against various infections.
Babies and young children are often more vulnerable to infections. Moreover, daycare is an environment conducive to the spread of germs. This can be explained by a variety of factors, including:
- the presence of a large group of people in a confined space
- the constant sharing of objects
- characteristics inherent to early childhood (developing immune system, wearing diapers, using nursing bottles and pacifiers, habit of putting objects in the mouth, etc.)
- the fact that young children are in very close contact with each other and with adults (games, hugs, kisses, etc.)
- their lack of concern regarding the risk of infection and of prevention measures
The spread of germs in children
The spread of germs can occur in different ways, including through contact such as:
- skin to skin
- mouth to mouth
- mouth to wound (in the case of a bite mark for example)
- head to head (in the case of lice)
- with an infected object
- respiratory droplets released in the air (such as by coughing or sneezing)
- contaminated airborne dust particles
- contaminated feces (such as during a diaper change)
Germs can contaminate another person by entering through a port of entry. This may consist of mucous membrane in the mouth, nose or conjunctiva (mucous membrane in the eyes), for example.
Viruses are generally very contagious. The coronavirus is one that is particularly so. This is why it is so important to implement and follow very rigorous measures to prevent it from spreading.
Germs present in daycare centres and schools
Many common infections are caused by a virus:
- a cold
- influenza (flu)
- fifth disease (erythema infectiosum)
- hand-foot-mouth disease
Others can be caused by bacteria:
- whooping cough
- scarlet fever, and
Some can be caused by a virus or bacteria. For example, this is the case for:
Finally, pediculosis (lice infection) is an example of an infection caused by a parasite.
Tips for informed parents
As a parent, you cannot control everything that goes on in your child’s environment. However, by focusing on the following measures, you can reduce the risk of your child contracting or spreading an infection.
- Ask about the daycare centre's or school’s policy and procedure in preventing and fighting infections. Don't hesitate to share your concerns, ask questions or make suggestions.
- Teach your child to cough or sneeze in the crook of their arm.
- Show your child how to effectively wash their hands. You can even make it more fun by singing a little ditty! Effective handwashing must last at least 20 seconds.
- Encourage your child to wash their hands very often, especially after having had physical contact with potentially contaminated objects.
- Tell your child to avoid touching their hands to their face unnecessarily.
- If your child is old enough, explain the importance of following physical distancing measures. It will be easier for them to adhere to them if they understand the reasoning behind it.
- If there is an infection circulating at your child's daycare or school, ask what signs and symptoms you should look out for.
- Make sure your child has received all of the recommended vaccinations, according to the usual immunization schedule in your province.
- See a doctor promptly if you notice any unusual symptoms. When in doubt about seeking medical attention, call Info-Santé. You can also ask the advice of your pharmacist, but it is important to know that it is not a pharmacist's function to make a medical diagnosis.
- If your child has an infection, keep them at home and inform the daycare or school. If applicable, be sure to respect the recommended time period before sending them back. This time period depends on various factors, including the nature and severity of the infection.
Don't hesitate to speak to your pharmacist, who can inform you about the prevention of infections.