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Listen now: School nasties to watch out for

Contiguous infections commonly seen in kids.

Young boy standing in a playground pulling a funny face

Starting school for the first time is an exciting step for kids, but it can also introduce them (and the family) to a whole new round of contagious illnesses and bugs. We spoke to GP Dr Elysia Thornton-Benko about what symptoms parents should look out for as their child heads off to school.

Listen to the full interview:

Chicken pox

Varicella, or chicken pox, is a highly contagious skin infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. While less common today due to immunisation, in most cases chicken pox is a mild disease lasting only a short time.

If you hear chicken pox is making the rounds at your child’s school, make sure to keep an eye on their skin — the most obvious symptom to look out for is a rash of red itchy spots which usually begin on the body and then move to the head and limbs. These spots will then blister and turn into scabs.


  • Kids should stay home from day care and school while the virus is present on the skin.
  • Tell your child’s school, as they’ll need to trace the source and notify the wider community. This helps to alert other parents and control the spread of the virus.

Head lice (nits)

Head lice are tiny, wingless insects that live and breed in human hair — feeding on blood from the scalp by biting the skin. These insects, or ‘nits’, can make your child’s head extremely itchy, and while they’re unable to jump or fly, they can crawl from one strand of hair to another when kids touch heads — making them highly contagious, particularly amongst school-aged kids.


  • Catch and treat nits early. At the first sign of itchiness, look behind the ears, neck and through the scalp. Look for tiny white eggs attached to hair follicles, and if they’ve already hatched, you’ll see tiny crawling bugs too.
  • To treat nits, you’ll need an over-the-counter product from your chemist to kill the living insects, and a fine tooth (nit) comb to remove eggs from the hair follicles.

School sores (impetigo)

School sores is a very contagious, localised skin infection which is commonly seen in children — especially during warmer months. The sores can appear anywhere on the body and are red, pimply and itchy to begin with, before turning into moist blisters which can burst, leaving red, weeping skin.

  • The spot usually becomes coated with a tan or yellowish crust, making it look like it has been covered with honey.
  • The sore takes about one to three days to develop after contact with fluid or crusts from a sore.
  • There is often superficial peeling on the edge.


  • If you think your child may have school sores, it’s best to get them checked out by a GP as they may require antibiotics.
  • Check your child’s school health guidelines around contagious illnesses, but the general rule is to ensure that school sores is completely healed or covered before returning your child to school.

If you notice something different about your child’s skin, it’s always best to get them checked out by a GP sooner rather than later — just in case they’re contagious and/or require treatment. For more information about family health, visit Better Families.

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