Avoiding daycare health hazards; what every parent should know

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
respiratory syncytial virus, RSV, daycare, premature infants, infants

Approximately 82% of U.S. children aged six weeks to six years old spend some amount of time in child care, where dangerous germs are easily spread. To get up-to-date information on the infection risks at daycare facilities, I interviewed a pediatric critical care physician and a mother, who experienced her infant’s near-death experience after entering day care at six weeks of age.

Whether it is five or 50 hours a week, the risks of spending time in a daycare or pre-school setting are the same: increased exposure to contagious germs and viruses. Constant sharing of toys and furniture, frequent hugging and hand-holding, and eating and napping in close quarters, makes daycare an ideal environment for infection spreading among young children, especially young babies. Like many parents, Heidi Staats was obliged to enroll her six-week-old son Brett in day care so that she could return to work. Two weeks late, he developed symptoms of a cold, which rapidly progressed to a severe respiratory infection. Heidi panicked when he turned gray and he was rushed to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. A diagnosis of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) was made. Brett spent six days on a ventilator in the intensive care unit and fortunately, made a complete recovery. The experience made Heidi an advocate for RSV.

Heidi stresses that you should interview daycare personnel and determine whether they have had cases of RSV at the facility, what they did about it, and sanitation procedures. If answers are vague, move on to another facility. It is essential that the daycare center should promote hygiene practices such as hand washing, limit contact of children with ones that appear sick and have policies in place to encourage parents not to bring sick children to the facility.
keep seek child practices offers the following tips for parents:


Paul A. Checchia, M.D deals with extremely ill children on a daily basis. He is Professor of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine and Medical Director, Pediatric Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit, Texas Children’s Hospital. He has extensive experience with RSV in various clinical, research and academic settings He reiterates Heidi’s points and notes that a simple lab test can diagnose a RSV infection; thus, if your long child comes down with a respiratory infection, ask your healthcare provider to run a RSV test. Like Heidi, he stresses a need for increased awareness of RSV among both parents and physicians. He notes that children that suffer a RSV infection are infectious for one to three weeks after recovery; thus, they should be kept away from other children.

RSV is a contagious viral disease that may infect a person's lungs and breathing passages
Most children will catch RSV by the age of two years. In most cases, the infection is mild; however, as in Brett’s case, infants are at increased risk of a severe infection. Premature infants are also very susceptible to developing a severe form of the disease. In the U.S., the disease occurs most commonly during fall, winter, and early spring.

If your young child develops any of the following symptoms, call your healthcare provider right away:

  • Coughing or wheezing that does not stop
  • Fast or troubled breathing
  • A fever (especially if it is greater than 100.4°F in infants under 3 months of age)
  • A bluish color around the mouth or fingernails
  • Spread-out nostrils and/or a caved-in chest when trying to breathe
  • Gasping for breath

For further information: