At School: Is It Just a Sniffle or Something More Serious?

  • Understanding Respiratory Viruses: Learn about COVID-19, influenza, RSV, and the common cold, their symptoms, and how they impact school children.
  • Prevention Strategies: Implement effective measures such as vaccinations, hygiene practices, and healthy habits to reduce the spread of viruses in schools.
  • Respiratory Virus Statistics: Respiratory infections, including COVID-19, flu, RSV, and colds, significantly impact school attendance and health protocols.
  • Managing Illnesses: Guidance for parents and educators on caring for children with respiratory illnesses, including hydration, rest, symptom monitoring, and seeking medical help when necessary.


As winter has arrived in Australia, the spread of respiratory viruses in schools is a significant concern. It is crucial for parents and educators to differentiate between a common cold and more serious illnesses like COVID-19 or RSV to effectively manage and prevent the spread of these infections.

Understanding Respiratory Viruses

Several respiratory viruses can affect children, particularly during the winter months. The most concerning include:

  • COVID-19: A highly contagious virus with symptoms ranging from mild to severe, including fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, fatigue, and loss of taste or smell.
  • Influenza (Flu): Characterised by sudden onset of fever, chills, muscle aches, cough, congestion, runny nose, headaches, and fatigue. The flu can lead to serious complications, especially in young children.
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV): Causes symptoms such as runny nose, decrease in appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever, and wheezing. In severe cases, it can lead to bronchiolitis and pneumonia.
  • Common Cold: Symptoms include a runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, cough, congestion, slight body aches, sneezing, and low-grade fever.

Prevention Strategies for Schools

Preventing the spread of respiratory viruses in schools involves a comprehensive approach:

  1. Vaccinations:

    • COVID-19 and Flu Vaccines: Ensure all eligible children and staff are vaccinated against COVID-19 and influenza to reduce the severity and spread of these viruses.
  2. Good Hygiene Practices:

    • Frequent Hand-washing: Encourage students and staff to wash hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
    • Use of Hand Sanitisers: Place hand sanitiser stations throughout the school and encourage their use.
    • Avoid Close Contact: Teach children to maintain physical distance where possible and to cover their mouths and noses with a tissue or elbow when coughing or sneezing.
    • Mask-Wearing: Depending on local health guidelines, encourage or mandate mask-wearing indoors to reduce virus transmission.
  3. Healthy Lifestyle:

    • Balanced Diet: Promote nutritious meals to boost students' immune systems.
    • Adequate Sleep: Ensure students get enough rest to support their health and recovery.
  4. Clean and Ventilated Environments:

    • Regular Cleaning: Disinfect commonly touched surfaces like desks, doorknobs, and playground equipment frequently.
    • Ventilation: Ensure classrooms and indoor areas are well-ventilated to reduce the concentration of airborne viruses.

Managing Illnesses in Schools

If a student contracts a respiratory virus, here’s how parents and educators can manage their symptoms and support their recovery:

  • Monitor Symptoms: Keep a close eye on the child's symptoms and watch for signs of severe illness such as difficulty breathing or dehydration.
  • Keep Hydrated: Ensure the child drinks plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
  • Rest: Encourage the child to rest and recover fully before returning to school.
  • Humidifier: Using a humidifier at home can help ease breathing difficulties.
  • Elevate Head: Keep the child's head elevated during sleep to assist with breathing.

When to Seek Medical Help

Seek medical attention if a student:

  • Has difficulty breathing or rapid breathing
  • Shows signs of dehydration (dry mouth, crying without tears, urinating less)
  • Has a persistent high fever
  • Appears very tired or inactive

Early intervention can prevent complications and aid in the child's recovery.




  1. Australian Government Department of Health. (2023). Respiratory Viruses in Children. Retrieved from
  2. Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne. (2023). Managing Respiratory Infections in Children. Retrieved from
  3. NSW Health. (2023). Winter Respiratory Illnesses. Retrieved from
  4. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2023). Child Health and Wellbeing. Retrieved from

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