Day Care Health Risks
Many young children spend a good portion of their lives in daycare. There are
many benefits to day care. It can provide enriching educational and social
experiences for the child. A recent study of 1,000 children over 6 years of
age compared those who had attended day care before they were six months old
with those who had not. The children who had attended day care as infants had
only half the risk of developing asthma as the group who had not attended day
care in their first 6 months of life.
All young children are prone to acquiring infections, but children in day care
face special risks. The group setting exposes a child to larger numbers of
other children (and their infections) than the home setting.
What are some of the health risks for children in day care?
Because they are in a group setting, children in day care are exposed to many
kinds of infectious diseases. Many of these are quite contagious.
Children in day care tend to get more
respiratory infections, such as
colds and flus. They also
a high number of ear infections, or
otitis, which often stem from respiratory ailments.
Sometimes children in day care can be exposed to more serious respiratory
infections. One of these is tuberculosis (TB). Although not as common as it once was, outbreaks of TB still occur.
Infection of the intestinal tract, called
gastroenteritis, is often caused by viruses. Gastroenteritis usually
causes vomiting or diarrhea or both. These illnesses are very contagious.
However, they rarely cause long-term problems. Gastrointestinal infections are
spread by the fecal-oral route. This means a person catches it by swallowing
germs found in feces. This type of infection is common among young children
because they may not wash their hands carefully after using the toilet.
A less common intestinal disease sometimes found among children in day care is
giardiasis. It is caused by a
parasite called Giardia lamblia. The symptoms of giardiasis include
diarrhea, stomach cramps, and gas.
Young children can easily pass this disease to others.
Children in day care are also at greater risk of coming in contact with hepatitis A. This form of viral hepatitis
is also spread by the fecal-oral route. Hepatitis A is commonly passed through
contaminated food. Food can become tainted with the virus when a carrier of the
disease handles food after using the toilet without washing his or her hands.
Other common but not serious health problems occur in day care. These include
head lice and scabies infestations, which involves mites infecting
What are some of the safety issues for children in day care?
Safety issues can also be a concern for children in day care. The child's level
of risk is related to the ratio of adult caretakers to children in the day care
setting. Ideally, there should be 1 adult for every 4 children between the ages
of 2 and 3. For children ages 3 to 6, the ratio should be 1 to 8. Another
safety concern is the location of the day care facility. A center on a busy
street or in an unsafe part of town may pose safety risks for children.
Parents should visit a day care facility before enrolling their child. This will
enable them to assess the staff and the setting. Parents can also get a sense
of the staff's attitude toward health and safety issues, and look for signs of
child abuse. The staff should
the children with warmth and gentleness. At the same time, they should provide
enough supervision and structure to keep the child safe and comfortable.
What questions should parents ask?
Parents should ask about state licensing of the center. They should also ask
about guidelines for limiting the spread of illness. These provisions may
include requiring staff to have up-to-date immunizations including those for
hepatitis A. Also, policies should
restrict the children with symptoms of infection from attending day care.