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When Is an Illness Contagious?

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
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How do you know when a child's illness is in the contagious stage? I run a daycare and would like to take the right precautions at the right time when kids get sick.
– Yvette

Most viral illnesses are contagious before a person has any symptoms. So an infected child can spread a virus before feeling sick. This makes it almost impossible to stop the spread of infections.

Some childhood rashes — such as hand, foot, and mouth disease, chickenpox, and ringworm — spread through skin-to-skin contact. So kids with a rash should avoid contact with others until the spots crust over.

The best way to fight germs and keep them from spreading is to make sure that kids (and adults!) wash their hands well and often, especially:

  • after playing outside
  • before eating
  • after going to the bathroom
  • after coughing or sneezing

Also, teach the kids in your daycare to cover their coughs and sneezes. If they don't have a tissue handy, they should cough or sneeze into an elbow, not their hands.

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: November 2019