Are Day Care Germs Good for Us? A look at the 21st Century “Sickly Child”

Are daycare germs always good for immunity?

ANOTHER 39.5 degree fever! Are daycare germs always good for immunity?

I’ve just finished reading Jane Eyre (again) by Charlotte Bronte, after almost two solid years of reading exciting kids books (MG, YA, you name it, I’ve read it and I love it) for ‘research purposes,’ I’ve had a real craving for the classics. But one motivating reason for this craving is an interest in how people, in the olden days, regarded and responded to illness. If you’ve read my other posts on Re-Respect the Germ, you’ll know why this interests me. In a nutshell, I’m basically concerned about 21st Century illness behaviours and attitudes. In the light of microbial resistance, “soldiering on” when sick, the speed of international travel combined with the anonymity of spreading germs in a city, I wonder if something big, dark and deadly is looming on the horizon.

That is of course, unless we can start taking a good look at ourselves now and work out sensible ways we can start to RE-Respect the Germ, (rather than turn into Germophobes, something I am very much against).

So typhoid swept through Jane’s school, killing off half the student population. The reality of life pre-vaccine. But it’s not vaccines that I want to write about today, but the concept of the “sickly child”. Jane describes her first morning break-time at Lowood Institution, the strong, robust girls run around in the cold morning air, whereas the pale, sickly looking girls cower together for warmth, hearing the odd hollow cough emanate from them.

The “Sickly Child”

My grandma tells me she was a “sickly child”, born at a weight so low she wasn’t expected to last the night. She did survive but had a poorly childhood. She would have been one of the pale, thin children crowding together for warmth at Jane’s school. Does the “sickly child” concept exist today? Not really, does it?  We are lucky to be living in an era where fantastic medicine and early intervention for causes of the “sickly child” help  to reduce the chances of children, in the developed world, from being too “sickly”. What sort of things could have caused a “sickly child?” I’m guessing things like malnourishment, nutritional deficiencies like Iron Deficiency (still quite common today though) undiagnosed immune issues such as low antibody levels, infections such as tuberculosis, or the impact of an infection such as rheumatic fever from having an untreated strep throat.

Although the concept of the “sickly child” isn’t familiar to us anymore…do “sickly children” still exist? Are there children that – for no obvious reason at least – get sicker more frequently and to a higher degree than others around them? Some parents may see a difference between their own children in the way each child reacts, physiologically to illness. Whereas one child may catch a cold and get over it quickly, the other may have a tendenacy to develop bacterial secondaries with a cold such as ear or chest infections. One child may get a fever and be over it after 48 hours, the other may suffer for days. The knock on effect of having a child that suffers more acutely with frequent illnesses is the negative impact those illnesses then have on things such as sleep and appetite, compounding the very problem by further decreasing immune resistance to future infection.

Are Infections at Daycare Good for Immunity in the Long Run?

Almost any parent who has used a Daycare for their children will report the ridiculously huge or ‘dysteleological’ number of infections that occur (particularly during winter time). Some parents are quite bravado about the infections their children suffer and do not refrain from taking in their infectious children (and happily spreading their germs around, time and time again). Other parents are more cautious in sending in their sick kids. Bless their souls. Are these the parents who are worse hit with their average infection? It wouldn’t surprise me if many of these cautious parents comprise the sub-group who frequently end up in hospital with their kids suffering the fallout of a simple cold with croup, asthma exacerbations, and dehydration from ‘a little tummy bug’ and so on.

How well a child recovers from any one illness can impact on their overall health and wellbeing. There is no denying the fact that some germ exposure is useful in building the foundations to a strong immune system. But, for some children who attend daycare, the winter onslaught may simply be too much and the kid is unable to bounce back between infections. The end result is a 21st century “sickly child” floating from infection to infection without experiencing substantial periods of wellness in-between. I reckon I’ve got me one of those in my house…But this isn’t a laughing matter, because being chronically ill can have an impact on sleep and appetite and when these are disrupted so too increases the risk of a child’s growth and development being affected.

Day Care Germs and the Future

In other posts on Re-Respect the Germ I’ve made my thoughts quite clear on what I think needs to change in 21st Century attitudes to illness and illness behaviours. But specifically with regards to Daycare Germs the wilful spread of germs by a certain population of selfish parents, I’m at a loss…I repeatedly see and hear of sick kids being sent in to Daycare by parents who know jolly well quite how sick their children are. Oh yes, I have a wealth of examples that would make any germ conscious parent’s blood boil with frustration. But what is the solution? Daycare centres can send home sick kids (and they frequently have to) but only after the sick kid has sprayed their classmates with germs. Daycare centres will repeatedly write up centre policy in weekly newsletters but it seems, these policies are either not read, or are conveniently ignored. What doesn’t help is when the centre is part of chain and not actually owned by the centre manager: it is my opinion that employed centre staff are frequently afraid of coming on ‘too strong’ to these parents, (in certain areas at least) fearing a complaint and interference from head office.

So, I’d like to develop some sort of tool, a poster, a checklist…something that can be put by the ‘signing in’ sheet or at the entrance to the centre itself to prompt parents to check their conscience, at least (if not their kid!) one last time before doing the ‘drop and run.’

Do you think something like this would work or would these parents (particularly the repeat offenders) just ignore it too? Please help me to brainstorm this, as I’d love your input!

  6 comments for “Are Day Care Germs Good for Us? A look at the 21st Century “Sickly Child”

  1. July 16, 2013 at 1:34 am

    Nurse Naomi…good on you…whilst we all understand the pressures put on a Mum in this day and age with having 2 jobs in many cases, ( the one she gets paid for and the one at home that she does for love) it must be very tempting to drop and run at the daycare center after all what else can you do when you are flat out and have a million things on your mind.

    This must be a dilema faced by many busy Mums every day…not that I am advocating the drop the sick kid and run policy. I do think that this is a discussion that needs to be had amongst Mums/Dads (without ridicule) to find a way to support each other in the community when we are found in this position.

    As a matter of interest children are most infectious even before the symptoms are fully developed so the infection is already in the daycare center before Tommy was dropped of with a runny nose or a cough.

    I have been in business and whilst I dont want to see a greater burden put on business maybe we should look at a means of bridging the financial shortfall that the family would suffer from Mum or Dad not going to work. ie the days wages say $150 less the daycare fee $55 this being $95 which can be paid from the parents holiday pay. Or possibly one of the parents be allowed to take a sick day from their own sick leave to look after the child. I think that possibly if a child is sick that the parents should not be charged for that day at the daycare centre. As an incentive for a healthier public possibly the day care centre can be reimbursed 50% by the government of the lost fees where there are contracts in place with the parents for daycare services. Having to still pay fees when you keep your child home to protect other children can seem hard on families that are already cash strapped.

    We need to look after each other and the community putting a sick child with a grandparent is a recipe for disaster however when faced with no other alternative it must happen.

    • Naomi R Cook
      July 16, 2013 at 8:05 am

      Hi Keith, thanks so much for this detailed and insightful response. I LOVE the idea of the gov participating in a scheme like this and rebating families/daycares 50% for missed days. I agree that this topic stretches beyond the sick kid and the parent and is inextricably linked (sometimes) to an unsympathetic workplace which means that there are other issues to be tackled in conjunction with the attitudes to infection spread. But the daycare centre itself is a good place to start.

      Hmmm. An idea is beginning to form in my head as to how I can start this (but involving the Gov is still a long way off, when it comes to that I know that I can come to you for advice on how to proceed! 🙂 but I’ll need to brainstorm it a bit more first…

  2. Claire Ross
    July 16, 2013 at 7:18 am

    Mmmm – i have to say I think “they” would ignore it!!!

    • July 19, 2013 at 3:53 am

      Hi Claire,

      Soon the government parents and the community at large will not be able to ignore all issues pertaining to children’s health. The Children’s Global hygiene Foundation are launching the first campaign of a global initiative to empower them as community hygiene warriors to get the adults to wash their hands. The first campaign led by Bindi Irwin will call on all children to become GrimeStoppers and upload videos asking the government “why don’t children enjoy the same hygiene legislative protection at school that their parents enjoy at work.?” This initiative is supported by many organisations around Australia including the Australian Nursing Union at a national level. The campaign will carried out by school and community nurses approaching school principals to embrace the campaign. See

      Government will no longer be able to hide as many children around the world come together to challenge them on issues that impact on children

  3. July 16, 2013 at 11:23 am

    I think “those” parents would ignore it. My husband and I are lucky that we both have the ability to work from home to care for our son and take it in turns to do so as much as possible. Not everyone can do that, and the alternative is to use up sick/annual leave or not get paid. The government does actually pay parents their entitled childcare rebate/benefit for sick days. There are limits on the number of days without certificates, so the other issue is that parents not only need to stay home but they have to take their child to the doctor purely for a certificate for the child care centre, and possibly one for themselves as carers – putting additional strain on the health system.

    • Naomi R Cook
      July 16, 2013 at 11:14 pm

      Hey, thanks for this info, I had no idea about this rebate already existing. It obviously doesn’t have a great impact then does it? Now you’ve got me brainstorming ways that additional strain on the health care system can be avoided too…;-)

      I’ve got one idea brewing on something small we could start as a way to bring more publicity to this issue as well as facilitating the discussion about whether a kid is sick/well at drop off in the morning. I’ll write it up over the next few weeks and I’d love your feedback again. Thanks!

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