Once your child starts nursery, or reception, they'll be mixing with lots of other kids every day, in fairly close proximity - which means there's a higher risk than previously of them catching one or more of the common contagious childhood conditions / illnesses.


We'll go through some of the illnesses kids get in those first few months of nursery / school - and we'll also look at some of the other hazards that can come up for toddlers and young children once they start mixing with others that might not be so likely to happen at home.

We should also say right here that if you have a child who's about to start either nursery - or school (if they haven't been to nursery previously) - you might want to think about keeping a few leave days spare if you work for emergencies - as you might just need some for those last-minute childcare emergencies.

We've added here a general guide for when your child can attend nursery with a particular illnesses but do note that each nursery has its own rules about whether your child can come in or not, and when, so you will need to check with them before your child returns.

Common childhood illnesses / conditions your child may get at nursery or school

1. Chickenpox

chickenpox spots

What is it?

This virus is highly contagious, but once you’ve had it, you usually don’t get it again. Your child has a high temperature first, then possibly a blotchy rash, fading after a couple of days to be replaced by red, fluid-filled blisters.

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These scab over in five to seven days, then disappear. Your child may feel unwell, or seem fine except for itching – each child's different.

How to treat chickenpox

Bicarbonate of soda in a lukewarm bath eases itching, or dab calamine lotion on the spots. Discourage scratching to avoid scarring.

When can your child go to nursery with chickenpox?

Stay away until all spots have scabbed over.

2. Conjunctivitis


What is it?

The conjunctiva, a membrane that lines the white of the eye, becomes pink and inflamed due to infection, allergy or irritation. Bacterial conjunctivitis is very infectious. Your child’s eye is likely to be sticky with a discharge, and even ‘glued’ shut when he wakes.

How to treat conjunctivitis

Use drops from the pharmacist or with a prescription. Your child should have his own towel and flannel to avoid passing the infection. To ‘unglue’ your child’s eyes, wipe them with a piece of cotton wool soaked in cooled, boiled water.

When can your child go to nursery with conjunctivitis?

Wait till you’ve used drops for a few days and there’s no discharge.

3. Hand, foot and mouth


What is it?

This virus causes blisters on your child’s palms, soles of his feet and inside his mouth after, perhaps, a sore throat, high temperature and runny nose. The blisters will be itchy and sore. The disease is infectious from when he first comes down with it until the blisters dry up.

How to treat hand, foot and mouth

Don’t burst blisters or the disease will spread. Cover them with gauze dressings to dry. Wash your hands each time you touch them or change a dirty nappy. Sores in his mouth may make it hard to eat and drink – offer food he can easily swallow.

When can your child go to nursery with hand, foot and mouth?

Stay away for the first few days of the illness. Some nurseries may ask you not to return until the blisters have healed.

4. Head lice


What are they?

Little bugs that live near the scalp, and lay eggs (‘nits’) on the hair. They pass from head to head, especially in young nursery children in close contact.

How to treat head lice

You can buy lotions and shampoos to kill the lice, but you’ll need to remove the eggs, too, otherwise a new batch will hatch. The non-chemical method is to regularly comb the nits out of wet hair with a fine-toothed comb.

When can your child go to nursery with head lice?

Can attend once treated with a head lice lotion or shampoo, or if you’re combing hair regularly with a nit comb.

5. Impetigo

impetigo white skin

What is it?

This contagious skin infection is caused by common bacteria (staphylococcal or streptococcal) that are carried on people’s skin. Infection occurs when the bacteria get into the skin and multiply – often through a small scratch.

Impetigo causes a blistering, red, crusting rash, which occurs in small patches. Red spots enlarge until they become fluid-filled blisters, and when they burst, new sores develop, making the problem worse.

How to treat impetigo

Impetigo can be treated with antibiotic creams or oral antibiotics. To discourage impetigo from spreading, try not to touch the rash and wash your hands if you do. Don’t share towels, and wash all towels and bedding at high temperatures.

When can your child go to nursery with impetigo?

Stay away until the rash clears, which happens quicker if it’s treated.

What can you do to help stop impetigo spreading?

6. Sickness and diarrhoea


What are they?

Tummy bugs are fairly common illnesses in nursery children. Sometimes accompanied by vomiting – one particularly unpleasant bug is ‘winter vomiting disease’, officially called Norovirus.

How to treat sickness and diarrhoea

Most tummy bugs don’t need treatment. Give lots of drinks to avoid dehydration; don’t worry about food until your child is ready for it. Wash hands regularly to avoid passing it on.

When can your child go to nursery with sickness and diarrhoea?

Stay at home until 48 hours after symptoms disappear.

7. Threadworms

What are they?

Living in the intestines, they crawl to your child’s bottom to lay eggs, causing itchiness - so your child scratches, gets eggs under his fingernails, and they get in his mouth. The cycle starts again. Look out for your child scratching his bottom; check his poo, pants and bedding – worms look like tiny bits of white thread.

How to treat threadworms

Tablets from the pharmacist kill worms and eggs. Treat all the family, and inform the nursery. Wash all towels and bedding at a minimum of 60°C.

To prevent re-infection from threadworms:

  • Wash hands before meals and after going to the toilet
  • Trim nails and avoid nail biting
  • Shower every morning to wash away eggs laid at night
  • Give each member of the family their own towel

When can your child go to nursery with threadworms?

You don't need to keep her off at all.

Other illnesses that may come up at nursery age

As well as the ones we've mentioned, there are other illnesses that your child might get - though some of the ones we've mentioned here are pretty rare. We've also included some of the issues that can come up when your child starts nursery that might not have been a problem before, thanks to lots of outdoor play with other children etc. Take a look...

Asthma: Your tot can’t catch asthma, but running around in cold weather can set it off. Practical Parenting’s health visitor Annette Maloney says, “Signs to watch out for are wheezing and colds that go on and on.”

Catherine Short, nurse and author of Asthma: The Essential Guide, says “Visit a GP, who’ll prescribe an inhaler for your little one to take to nursery with him.”

Stings and bites: Outdoor play can lead to encounters with insects. Stings from bees and wasps are painful but not dangerous, unless your child’s allergic, in which case nursery staff will recognise this and get emergency medical care.

“Apply a soothing lotion like calamine,” says Catherine.

Eczema: If your child’s skin has dry patches that flare up and subside, then he or she may have eczema. “Your child’s skin will be redder than usual, and will go yellow and crusty if infected,” says Dr Susan Mayou of Cadogan Clinic. “It can often be treated with an unperfumed moisturiser and most kids grow out of it.”

Flu: Along with winter comes the inevitable flu. It’s similar to a cold but the symptoms are worse. Infant paracetamol is good for bringing down a fever and battling aches and pains.


Cuts and grazes: Physical play is essential but can end in tumbles. Wipe with water and clean cotton wool to remove dirt and germs, and then cover with a plaster For cuts, clean and apply antiseptic cream, and always cover with a plaster.

Earache: This is caused by inflammation of the ear canal, usually due to an infection. “The main symptom is pain if the ear’s pressed or tugged,” says Catherine. Antibiotic eardrops from the GP should clear it up.

Heat rash and prickly heat: Unexpected hot autumn days can bring on heat rash. “Tots can develop an itchy rash if they’ve been exposed to the sun for too long,” says Dr Susan. “It’ll go, but keep your child cool, hydrated and out of the sun.” Put SPF50 suncream on them before they set off for nursery.

Similar to heat rash, prickly heat is easily treatable. “The rash occurs on places such as the neck, because the skin there gets overheated easily,” explains Dr Susan Treat it by keeping your tot cool, hydrated and dress her in loose, natural fibres.

Calamine lotion will help ease symptoms.

Kicks and bites: Imaginative play can lead to skirmishes, and you might find your cild gets the odd kick - or even bite - from another child. A bruise will come up. It will clear up on its own, and if your child’s been bitten they might get a red patch with teeth marks. In this case, keep it open to the air.


Meningitis: It’s important to know the symptoms because they require urgent medical attention. “They include stomach pains and headache, fever, cold hands and feet, neck stiffness, a dislike of bright light, vomiting and often a rash, that can appear anywhere on the body,” says Catherine Short, author of Asthma: The Essential Guide.

“If you think your child may have meningitis, don’t wait to see your GP, go straight to A&E,” says Annette Maloney.

Nosebleeds: Active play or even a mild cold could make your tot’s nose bleed. Angela has this advice to stop the flow: “Lean your child’s head forward and pinch the hard cartilage at the middle of the nose, applying pressure for a few minutes.”

Quinsy: Quinsy is a rare but serious complication of tonsillitis. “It causes an abscess to develop in the throat, leaving your child unable to swallow,” says Catherine. “If you see these signs, take your child straight to A&E to get the abscess drained, and then he’ll be put on antibiotics for a quick recovery.”

Rubella: Rubella (German measles) is a mild infection but can be dangerous if not treated. It has a distinctive brown/red rash. Your child will also have a temperature, swollen glands and maybe a runny nose or sore throat.

Yeast infection: “Similar to nappy rash, a yeast infection (or thrush) is often found in the groin area. The rash is more defined and deep red. It can be easily treated by health professionals who’ll prescribe the right medicine,” says Catherine.

Pics: Getty and Science Photo Library (impetigo image)


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Tara BreathnachContent Editor and Social Media Producer

Tara is mum to 1 daughter, Bodhi Rae, and has worked as Content Editor and Social Media Producer at MadeForMums since 2015