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Common childhood illnesses: what you need to know, what vaccinations your child needs and what to do if your child gets sick

A little girl smiles at a school desk.
You can't stop your kid from ever getting sick, but there are ways you can prevent some illnesses and treat others.

For many kids, starting child care or school for the first time will bring many firsts: their first day, their first teacher, their first best friend, and for some their first rounds of common childhood illnesses.

Children are prone to getting sick during the first few years of life as their bodies build immunity to infections. While it’s hard to stop your child from ever getting sick, the below tips will help you avoid some nasty bugs and manage what illnesses do come home from school.

Why do children get sick from day care/school?

In child care centres and schools, germs can spread easily with kids playing in close proximity to each other. Some of the main ways diseases can be spread are through the air when a sick child coughs or sneezes, or through direct contact when a sick child touches infectious parts of their body then touches toys or other children, who may then touch their mouth, nose or eyes. Day care centres and schools take precautions by encouraging children to practice good hygiene by keeping their hands clean, and keeping the toys they play with clean. They also keep kids showing signs of sickness away from other children and not allowing sick kids to attend.

Most children will experience a mild cold or infection at some stage in their childhood. In some cases, a sick child may spread their illness to other children or adults if they attend child care or school while infectious. This is why it is so important to keep your child at home or away from child care or school when they are sick and to look out for early signs and symptoms.

What are the most common schoolyard illnesses?

There are many types of illnesses that can go around child care centres and schools. Most are mild illnesses that will cause discomfort, however there are some that can be serious. A number of these diseases have vaccines that are included in the Immunisations Schedule Queensland, for example:

Other mild illnesses children could get include:

  • Cold
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Ear infections
  • Hand Foot and Mouth disease
  • Gastro

Illnesses like the common cold, conjunctivitis and hand foot and mouth disease do not have vaccinations and, although these illnesses rarely cause serious symptoms, children should still be kept home from child care or school until not infectious.

Additional vaccines are provided for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children and medically at-risk children.

Children play in a school playground with a ball.

What vaccinations does my child need before starting child care or school?

Vaccinations provide the best possible defence against serious illness and disease. In Queensland, there are a number of recommended vaccinations children can receive for free through the Immunisation Schedule Queensland. These include the vaccines recommended in the National Immunisation Program.

Check with your doctor or immunisation provider if you’re unsure of which vaccines your child needs or may have been missed.

Some childcare centres require you to prove your child’s immunisation status is up-to-date before you can enrol or attend an approved early childhood service. An immunisation history statement shows whether a child’s immunisation status is up-to-date and can either be an official record issued by the Australian Immunisation Register or a letter from your GP or recognised immunisation provider.

What do I do if my child gets sick?

The best way to protect your child is to teach them about hygiene and keep them at home when they are sick. You can find out how long you need to keep your child at home when they’re sick from the Time Out brochure (PDF 722KB).

Each illness can present in different ways that can even differ from person to person.  If you are concerned about symptoms it is best to seek medical advice through your GP or by calling 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) 24/7, any day of the year, to speak to a registered nurse.

More information about childhood illnesses and vaccinations

Last updated: 28 January 2020