By: Keeba Smith

It’s that time of year where we prepare our kids to go back-to-school.  It is also that time of year where we must prepare for the dreaded eventual onslaught of colds, coughs, and other illnesses that kids will pick up from their classmates.  Food poisoning is a common childhood illness. Most children will develop food poisoning at some point in their childhood. But we have gathered some information to help any parent whose child brings home more than just homework.

What are the types of food poisoning common in children?

Virus- Viral food poisoning is the most common. Norovirus is the foodborne-illness infected by most children.  Norovirus is often referred to as the stomach flu or stomach virus.  The norovirus is not related to the flu and tend to hit in large numbers.  Each year, 70,000 people are sent to the hospital after encountering this virus.

The norovirus is extremely contagious.  It can be spread by an infected person contaminating food or by touching surfaces.  Studies have found that it can be transmitted through the air via sneezing or coughing. It can spread quickly among young children causing unpleasant symptoms.

Bacteria- Bacteria food poisoning occurs when someone consumes contaminated food or water.  These bacteria release toxins which then causes food poisoning.  These are most common pathogens seen in bacterial food poisoning: Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter, and Listeria.

 Children are more likely to develop an E. coli infection than adults.  Infections due to E. coli (Escherichia coli) bacteria can cause severe, bloody diarrhea.  It can spread from person to person on unwashed hands and surfaces, by swimming in contaminated water, and from touching animals at farms or petting zoos.  While most strains of E. coli are harmless and pass through the body within a week, the E. coli 0157:H7 strain can be dangerous and sometimes fatal in children. Urgent medical attention is crucial for children with E. coli infections.

Why are children likely to get food poisoning from school?

Children are the perfect host for spreading viruses and illnesses.  They don’t always practice the highest levels of personal hygiene, like hand-washing.  They like to gather in large numbers at preschools, schools, daycare centers, and playgrounds.  They also do not have a strong immune system, and they play together in close quarters.

Due to their underdeveloped immune systems, children are considered high risk because their systems are not as effective in fighting off bacteria and viruses as adults.  The immune system is very complicated, but will eventually get stronger over time.  This is good news for you parents with high schoolers and college students.

Back-to-School Food Poisoning Prevention

It is very difficult to prevent food poisoning from infecting your children.  Kids rarely, if ever, think about safety or germs.  They believe they are somehow invincible.  Kids only care about what feels good to them instead of what is good for them.  As parents and adults, it is your job to look out for them and have their best interest at heart.  Part of protecting them is trying to keep them safe from certain foodborne illnesses by teaching them steps to help reduce the risk of infection and to control its spread once it occurs:

  • Wash Hands Regularly: Hands should be washed thoroughly with antibacterial soap and hot water before eating, after using the toilet, and after changing diapers.  Children do not always take care when washing their hands after visiting the toilet.  They also do not understand the importance of washing their hands before handling food.  It is a good idea to wash hands before and after school, preschool, or play dates.  If there is an infection at your house, wash hands after any contact with the infected person or contaminated surfaces.
  • Disinfected surfaces: Disinfecting sprays and wipes, like Lysol, are helpful in fighting against foodborne viruses and bacteria. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend a bleach solution of roughly 5-25 tablespoons of household bleach per gallon of water.  The bleach solution is very effective at killing the norovirus on any surface.  All surfaces need to be disinfected immediately after an incident of vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Thoroughly Wash Everything: When touching any contaminated item, it is recommended to wear rubber gloves when washing them.  Any items such as clothing, bedding, toys, and other items should be washed immediately with regular detergent on the longest cycle if it has been contaminated.
  • Keep your child home: If your child does become infected, please keep them at home for a minimum of 24 hours.  The best way to keep from spreading the norovirus and other illness to children at school is to keep it from infecting other children.  Schools have shut down before due to widespread outbreaks.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Food Poisoning in Children

The symptoms of food poisoning may vary according to the type of food poisoning.  Do not take the symptoms lightly in children because it can become severe due to their low tolerance from an undeveloped digestive system.  While each strain has their own symptoms, these are the most commons signs of food poisoning:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Abdominal pains
  • Headache and overall weakness

Treating Food Poisoning in Children

If your child has a mild case of food poisoning, it can be treated at home. It is important to watch for your child’s symptoms, in case what appears to be a mild infection could really be the start of a severe one. Early medical intervention can not only help recovery time, but also reduce the risk of long-term complications, like IBS, kidney issues, or other related illnesses.

Children should get plenty of rest and stay rehydrated.  This also means keeping your child at home until he/she has recovered.  Re-hydration is very important to the recovery because it replaces fluids lost during the illness.  In severe cases, it may be necessary to re-hydrate through an intravenous drip in the hospital.  Most children recover from food poisoning within a week.

Keeping Kids Food Poison Free

There is no way to keep kids 100% food poison-free while at school, but you can help reduce the risk.  Educate them on the importance of washing hands and keep them home if they become infected.



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