How Healthy Are Daycares Really?

Babies in a daycare

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Daycares and preschools sometimes have a reputation for being “germ factories.” That is to say, little kids are often sick. As parents, we would love to avoid the sniffles, the fevers, and other discomforts associated with childhood illnesses.

However, in many households, the stay-at-home option is not really an option for both financial and personal reasons. Consequently, more and more parents now seek outside care for their kids.

A big draw for daycare centers and preschools is that they provide licensed care and intellectual stimulation from trained professionals, as well as socialization skills through interaction with other children.

But what about all the germs?

Find out the truth about daycare-associated infections and what causes them. Did you know there are even some health-related benefits for children who attend daycare centers and preschools? Keep reading to find out more!

Are Kids Who Attend Daycares and Preschools More Prone to Infections?

Yes. There is an increase in risk for respiratory infections, ear infections, and diarrheal disease. The increased risk is independent of age, race, and social class. Importantly, though, this risk also decreases significantly when appropriate diapering, handwashing, and food-preparation equipment are used.

Some infections spread more quickly than others. Others are more likely to spread. Conjunctivitis is commonly spread. Different colds and respiratory bugs, such as those spread by Enterovirus — including Rhinovirus — and Metapneumovirus, are commonly spread at this age group. Very infectious diseases might spread if few are vaccinated — like measles and mumps.

Why Is There an Increased Risk for Infections?

  • Behavioral Habits: Behavioral habits in daycare centers, such as close interpersonal contact with other children and a need for physical contact with adults, increases the risk of diseases that can be spread from person-to-person.
  • Lack of Personal Hygiene: Small children lack simple hygienic practices, including hand washing or not putting things in their mouths. In a daycare center, failure to heed these practices among other potentially sick children places kids at increased risk.  Adults have learned not to touch people and things without washing their hands. Children, however, with an itchy red eye will be more likely to rub their eye and then touch another child or a toy.
  • Immature Immune System: The presence of an immature immune system that defends poorly against new infections makes small children more prone to new infections to which they have not been exposed. They also may be too young to have completed their vaccination series.
  • Immature Physical Development: Some children have age-related physical impairments (such as an underdeveloped Eustachian tube) that may make them more prone to ear infections. In addition, prior to potty-training, the necessity for diapers is an underlying cause for the increased spread of diarrheal diseases.
  • Lack of Vaccination: Some daycares have low rates of vaccination among kids. This means there is no "Herd Immunity" to protect the other kids from infectious diseases.

Some Health Benefits Associated With Daycares

  • The prerequisite for a pre-admission physical examination and immunizations may enable some children to receive health care that may be inadvertently omitted by home caregivers who lack knowledge about disease prevention programs.
  • Many childcare facilities offer health education resources which can benefit the entire family.
  • Children are educated on and expected to practice proper hygiene.
  • Children who attend daycares may have a lower risk of childhood leukemia and asthma.
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Article Sources
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  2. Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology. Infection prevention and you. Preventing infection in early childhood centers. Updated November 2016.

  3. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Ear Infections in Children. Updated May 12, 2017.

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics News. Study: Few child care centers require flu vaccine for children, caregivers. Updated December 2019.

  5. Ma X, Buffler PA, Selvin S, et al. Daycare attendance and risk of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemiaBr J Cancer. 2002;86(9):1419‐1424. doi:10.1038/sj.bjc.6600274