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Back to school can mean back to illness

September 6, 2022  ||  By Danielle Bloch, MPH

There’s a reliable rhythm to the end of summer: days start getting shorter, students return to school with new class schedules in hand, and infectious illness among kids starts to rise. 

School Starts, Kids Start Getting Sick

For the past five years, Kinsa’s data has shown the rate of fevers among children between 5-17 years old increasing around the time summer vacation ends. (There is one exception: 2020, when the majority of schools were remote.) This uptick in transmission is likely fueled by kids socializing again in close proximity in school after being largely separated during the summer. And this year, there’s a chance the spread of illness will be even worse than usual: some COVID-prevention measures in place last year (like masking) also helped curb the spread of other illnesses. With many of those measures now removed, and kids being exposed to fewer viruses in early childhood, their immune systems may be more vulnerable to infection. 

Graph Showing the Rise of Fever Incidence Among Children Ages 5-17, Nationwide, In August and September, from Years 2018 Through 2021

Timing Is Everything

Across the United States, schools don’t all resume at the same time. While there’s variation among individual districts, schools in the South are generally the first to hit the books, starting around the first week of August. Throughout the following weeks, classes pick up across the country, with schools in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions finally starting after Labor Day. We start seeing increases in illnesses that cause fever among kids around the time that school resumes in most regions. 

Graph Showing Fever Incidence In West South Central, West North Central and Mid-Atlantic, Indicating the Rising Incidence of Fever in Children Related to School Starting

Staying Healthy

Regardless if illness is already on the rise in your area, or if you may be bracing yourself for some sniffles to come, here are a few ways to keep your family as healthy as possible this Autumn: 

  • Make sure your kiddo is up to date on all routine childhood vaccines. If any annual check-ups fell by the wayside during the pandemic, now is a great time to schedule them! 

  • Get everyone in the home (over the age of 6 months) vaccinated against flu by mid-October. The past two flu seasons have been mild, and there’s an increasing chance that this coming season will be more severe and potentially on the early side.  

  • Schedule your Omicron booster, for everyone in the home over the age of 12 who has already been vaccinated against Covid, particularly if it’s been over 3 months since either an infection or last vaccination. Have questions about it? Our epidemiology team has answers here.

  • For many of us, the pandemic brought new attention to hand hygiene - don’t lose that habit! Washing hands for at least 30 seconds and disinfecting commonly used surfaces is a great way to reduce transmission of colds and other viruses. 

  • If your child has a fever, cough or sore throat, take an at-home COVID test to see what type of care and isolation may be needed.

It’s no fun being sick or having a sick kiddo who has to miss school, but a few simple steps can help decrease your chances of illness in the home.

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