“Stomach flu” linked to timing of daycare start

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If it feels like your child gets sick a lot more often during their first year of daycare, it’s not your imagination. A recent study in Pediatrics analyzed gastrointestinal illness rates in 2,220 children involved in a study that ran from their birth until they were 6 years old. While the overall rate of acute gastroenteritis — often called “stomach flu” — was similar among children who did and did not attend daycare during their first year of life, the 83% of children who went to daycare before 1 year old had a higher rate during that year.
Over the entire 6 years of the study, about 12% of children who went to daycare during their first year had stomach flu, compared to 13% of children who remained at home. This 1-percentage point difference was not statistically significant after the researchers accounted for other differences between the groups of children. For example, the children attending daycare during their first year were more likely to have parents with higher education but less likely to have an older sibling. They were also more likely to have received at least some breastfeeding.
But during those first 12 months of life, the infants in daycare did come down with stomach flu a little more often than the children who didn’t attend daycare — approximately 13% more often. Similarly, children who entered daycare after 6 months old (but not earlier) saw an uptick in gastroenteritis compared to their peers not in daycare.
The good news is that the rate of stomach flu in first-year daycare attendees dropped to lower than that of the non-daycare attendees by the time the kids were 3 to 6 years old. In other words, the trend flipped as kids grew up. Over the first six years of life, kids are no more likely — over the long haul — to get the stomach flu regardless of whether they’re in daycare or not. But daycare attendance moves the sickness period earlier in children’s life. They either get sick more often when they first hang out with the other kids in daycare, or the uptick waits until they have more exposure to their peers later on, such as preschool or kindergarten.
Either way, parents are very likely going to see their children struck with gastroenteritis at some point, particularly during cold and flu seasons (autumn and wintertime). The question of when that rite of passage occurs seems to depend in slight part to when your child starts spending more time with their peers.

Photo credit to Johnathan NightingaleSome rights reserved.

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