How sick is sick enough to stay home?

Thursday, January 9, 2003

There has been more belly-aching and complaining around area schools than is usual for the days after holiday break. But students aren't sick about homework and class assignments -- they are just plain sick.

Several area schools have reported greater student absences due to viruses making their way around the campus.

But how do parents decide when their child is too sick to go to school? And when are you too ill to work?

Most health-care workers say a fever is generally the best indicator of being too sick to function at a normal pace.

Fever is a sign that your body is trying to compensate for whatever ails it, and that should be a warning sign to stay home and recuperate, said Rick Flinn, director of emergency services at Southeast Missouri Hospital.

Of course, there are people who will go to the extreme when they fall ill -- either staying home at the slightest sniffle or coming to work with an extreme temperature. Just because you have diminished symptoms doesn't always mean it's time to return to your normal routine.

"If you can't keep food or fluids down, then it's not a good idea for you to be back at work," Flinn said. And there is a greater chance you'll have a relapse, he said.

Spreading germs

Ruth Lane, nurse at Jackson Senior High School, said students who return to school with low-grade fevers don't do anything but spread germs to classmates and teachers.

Lane has sent plenty of students home sick in the past few days. The complaints have varied from nausea and stomachaches to head colds and coughs.

Viruses spread so easily, particularly when students are coughing a lot, she said. And if a student has been sick for an entire week, it's time to see a doctor, Lane said.

"We want to get these kids well, but we want to keep the ones in school well, too," she said.

The students at Jefferson Elementary School in Cape Girardeau seem to have had their illnesses before the holiday break. Nurse Linda Brotherton sent six children home from school in one day in mid-December -- all of them had a stomach virus and were vomiting.

"It goes in waves. We had it before Christmas, but I suspect we'll see it again before spring comes," she said.

Using guidelines

The school does use some guidelines for sending ill students home: Students with a temperature of 100 degrees or greater are sent home from school, as are students who vomit.

"The school tries to take some precautions against spreading the illness," Brotherton said. Teachers ask students who are coughing or sneezing often to wash their hands before using a book or item that other students might use later.

And with the rash of viruses circulating, it's not likely that many students are faking an illness, either. "You have to use your judgment with the kids, and some you can tell are not feeling good," said Kim Hagedorn, nurse at Nell Holcomb schools.

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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