Is My Child Contagious?

This post was almost entitled, “Does Green Snot Mean Infection?” – and then I realized you might have come here looking for a lovely recipe for tonight’s dinner.

If you’re still reading, I’ll assume you don’t mind the references to nasal discharge…

Today when I picked up my daughter from pre-school, I was informed by her lovely head-mistress that she had “lots of green snot”.

So gross.  But is my child contagious?

It used to be common medical belief that green phlegm meant a bacterial infection (as opposed to a virus) – so antibiotics were routinely prescribed.

But numerous studies show that kids with green snotty noses that are given antibiotics respond THE SAME as those in placebo groups. Basically, green phlegm (or any color for that matter) is not a good indicator of treatment or the cause of illness. (source)

What we DO know, is that when the body is battling a pathogen (bacteria, virus or allergen) the immune system responds by creating clear nasal discharge to flush the invaders from the nose and sinuses.

If the infection progresses, the body’s white blood cells get involved to fight the infection – producing thicker white or yellow phlegm.  As the body begins to recover and the normal sinus bacteria begins to restore itself, the notorious green snot may appear.

Though potentially the grossest, the green snot is actually a sign of impending recovery.

So When IS My Child Contagious?

Think of it this way:

We are all walking around transferring germs every time we shake hands, touch our noses or eyes, sneeze, breathe, eat, or turn door handles. If your child is coughing, sneezing or snotty, he can certainly spread germs – even if he’s been on an antibiotic (since they only work half the time, at best).

Ew. But before you go all germ-o-phobe and use anti-bacterial wipes on every surface you touch, consider that our bodies – and for that matter our entire planet – are covered with microbes. When in balance, these little organisms actually support our health, and we are each equipped with an immune system that is designed to keep pathogens in check.

While there’s no way to completely avoid transmission of germs, good hygiene can certainly help your immune system from becoming overwhelmed. Unfortunately though, young kids are not well-trained at washing their hands, blowing their noses (no, that shirt sleeve is not a hanky!), covering their mouths, and keeping a healthy distance when they are feeling under the weather.

Instinctively, most folks are more likely to steer clear of a green snot-nosed kid, but in fact, the clear runny-nosed children are the most precarious, as they are likely to be out-and-about and otherwise seemingly un-sick. To make it worse, the freely runny noses and sneezing during early illness are quite effective in passing viruses and bacteria along.

While your child is contagious at any point of his cold, take extra care when he has a clear runny nose to allow him to rest and bulk up on immune boosting foods and common cold remedies that really work.

A clear runny nose can also be due to allergens or cold weather, but if your your little one has a runny nose with a fever, fatigue, or irritability, it’s a good sign he is starting to fight an infection. If he has these symptoms or a persistent cough, it’s a smart idea to keep them home from school, play groups, or any public gathering.

Keeping a energetic child at home once he’s feeling better can be challenging on many levels. Once the fever is gone and energy is back to normal, use your best judgement to determine whether it’s wise to send your germy kid back into a sea of unsuspecting humans.

 When do you send your child back to school or play after an illness?

More reading:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/06/health/06real.html

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Comments

  1. Soni says

    So interesting! I’ve always wondered about bringing kids into a Nursery setting with a runny nose. I’m so relieved to read this because it seems like the green snot stage lasts so long!

  2. says

    Nice post and so relevant to me, as I kept my 3-year-old home from school with seemingly normal energy, but the thick yellow snot. I have always thought the green indicates bacteria, although neither of my kids have ever had the green snot so I don’t have much experience there. I have thought more about the clear runny nose lately with all the bugs goings around right now and think I will be more cautious of this in the future. Thanks!

  3. Fiona says

    I kind of wonder about this, because I’ve never had green snot in my life. Perhaps it’s an individual thing, as opposed to necessarily being an infection. That said, I’ve never had a sinus infection, either, so maybe I just don’t get this particular ailment, for whatever reason.

    Haven’t seen any green snot yet with my daughter, either.

  4. Paula says

    Hello there!!
    As a health-minded momma I was just as clueless before having my baby boy. I thought it would all come naturally once the baby was in my arms. And most of the people I looked up to or from whose websites I read because I admired them, were AP advocates, so the little bits I knew, were from AP. My son was born in a hospital, through a very traumatic birth, which caused us to have problems breastfeeding. This led to our first hurdle of new motherhood: when I had to stop breastfeeding I had to deal with the feeling of inadequacy brought on my unfulfilled expectations, placed by myself before his birth and deepened by other people’s downright anger against me for ‘bottle-feeding’ my baby. In the middle of researching and switching from commercial formulas (which were destroying his little tummy) to homemade formula (from a WAPF mom’s blog) we had been dealing with zero sleep, I was falling fast into the vortex of PPD and was missing my family and could have begged anyone for help (i had no one). So when some of my AP online acquaintances started running down ‘Babywise’, I had to find out what it was, and once I did, we bought the book and applied the principles to our little 9 week old baby. He took to it so well: first night he cried for 15min, second night for 5min, 3rd night he didn’t cry. Now he’s nearly a 2 year old who sleeps 12 hours at night and takes a 2-3 hour nap in the middle of the day. Happy, obedient, well-mannered child. When my AP acquaintances were looking down on me for being such a “horrible parent” I felt I was horrible, but when they’d complain about how their 2 or 3 year old still doesn’t sleep through the night or how their 18 month olds still needs breastfeeding 2 or 3 times per night to make it through, I am grateful I chose the route I chose. I am with you in believing every child and mother is different and there are different strategies for parenting, nobody should be looked down for their choices as parents, we should encourage and understand the hardships innate to this journey and offer help when needed (not advice, but help). This coming from a momma who was at the end of all the brunt malice of others because of my parenting choices (scheduled naps, bottle feeding of a non-white liquid, amber necklaces, and essential oils, oh my!). Loved this post, I wish I had found it sooner, because it makes me feel a bit vindicated, and hopefully more mothers out there who’s AP attempts aren’t working realize they’ll continue to be wonderful mommas even if they stop. At least they read books and tried something for their child’s benefit…. others out there don’t. <3

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