Feature Archive

Contagious Daycare?

Cleanliness is the key to keeping daycare healthy.

By Lynda Liu
WebMD Feature

More parents are leaving their children in day care than ever before: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 65% of women with children under the age of six were part of the labor force in 1998, compared with only 44% in 1975. And more women working means more kids in day care. At least 5.8 million children under age five are in out-of-home child-care facilities, according to the Urban Institute's 1990 National Child Care Survey.

It's no surprise, then, that as the number of kids in day care rises, so does the number of illnesses among those children. However, despite the fact that many studies have shown a link between day care and a greater tendency toward illness in early life, doctors say the bigger picture is not yet clear. "There is little question that day care before the age of two predisposes children to illnesses of the upper and lower respiratory tract," says Juan Celedon, MD, an instructor in the Department of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and a research fellow at Brigham and Women's Hospital. "But we don't yet know the long-term impact of illnesses in early childhood, and that's a very important question. It's possible that some of the infections may be [harmful] and some may be protective, but that is largely unknown."

Until the research can demonstrate which of these illnesses are detrimental, there are basic health guidelines that all day-care facilities should be following to protect young children -- whose immune systems are still developing -- from dangerous illnesses.