Fort Worth, Texas,
14:11 PM

Four Childhood Illnesses to Watch for This School Year (That Aren't COVID-19)

The Doc Smitty Explains What Pediatricians Typically See When Kids Go Back to School

By Justin Smith, M.D., aka The Doc Smitty

Our kids are back to school!

The beginning of a new school year has a ton of opportunity, some excitement and some nerves. And this year there’s probably a little extra floating around.

And while we’re all thinking about COVID-19 and watching for those symptoms (fever, cough, congestion, sore throat and stomach issues), let’s not sleep on the other illnesses that we are seeing as kids roll back into school.

Here are four common childhood illnesses that seem to increase when we go back to school:

  1. Strep throat - Fever and sore throat without a cold or cold symptoms is often a sign your child could have strep throat. Add in a rash or swollen lymph nodes in the neck and it’s even more likely. Kids with strep throat symptoms will likely need to be screened for strep throat and COVID-19. The good news about a positive strep test is that it allows your child to feel better and get back to school quickly.
  2. Common colds - Not every upper respiratory illness is COVID-19 but trying to determine the difference between the two can be tricky. I expect as we get further into the school year, we’ll be doing more and more testing to help determine between the two in an effort to get kids back to school whenever possible.
  3. Pink eye - Red, painful and itchy eyes are a common back-to-school problem. Many pink eye infections are viral but there are bacterial causes. Drops can be called in if a bacteria is suspected and, don’t forget, that allergies can cause these symptoms as well.
  4. Head lice - If your child starts to itch their scalp, be on the lookout for head lice or nits that could be the cause. Other parents in the class will be notified if a child develops lice so they can be on the lookout. Prompt and aggressive treatment can keep it from re-circulating through the class.

Don’t forget about these common childhood illnesses and others as we get back to school.

Stay in close contact with your pediatrician when symptoms develop so we can help you keep your child and their classmates safe and healthy!

What To Do if Your Child Has Been Exposed to COVID-19

In the past week, Cook Children’s Emergency Department (ED) and Urgent Care locations have seen record numbers of parents bringing in children who have been exposed to COVID-19 but show no symptoms.

If your child has been exposed to COVID-19 but is not sick, please call their pediatrician or visit a COVID-19 testing site. The Texas Department of State Health Services has a list of testing sites available on their website with contact information for each.

Due to the high number of patients being seen, wait times in the ED and urgent care are much longer than usual. Visits to the ED should only be used for critically-injured and ill children.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists these COVID-19 symptoms requiring emergency care:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone

It’s also important to know that Cook Children’s urgent care clinics are unable to perform rapid COVID-19 testing on a child who doesn’t show symptoms. Cook Children’s does have drive-thru testing sites, but those appointments are scheduled only through a Cook Children’s pediatrician and for specific times and locations.

Where do you go when your child needs to be seen by a doctor?

Here’s a guide:

  • Go to the emergency room if your child has trouble breathing, unusual sleepiness or confusion, poison ingestion, head injury with vomiting, serious burn or another life-threatening condition.
  • Call your health care provider if your child has ear pain, sore throat, diarrhea or vomiting, rash, cough or other non-urgent health concerns. The pediatrician’s office can help you decide what steps to take.
  • If you can’t get to your provider’s office or it’s after hours, go to an urgent care center. Urgent care centers manage the same problems as your regular health care provider plus services such as X-rays, stitches and splints.

For more information, visit


Get to know Justin Smith, M.D.

Justin Smith, M.D., is a pediatrician in Trophy Club and the Medical Advisor for Digital Health for Cook Children's in Fort Worth, Texas. Dr. Smith is an experienced keynote speaker for a variety of topics including pediatric/parenting topics, healthcare social media and physician leadership. If you are interested in having Dr. Smith present to your conference or meeting, please contact him at

He has an active community on both Facebook and Twitter as @TheDocSmitty and writes weekly for Cook Children's He believes that strategic use of social media and technology by pediatricians to connect with families can deepen their relationship and provide a new level of convenience for both of their busy lifestyles. Dr. Smith’s innovative pediatric clinic, a pediatric clinic “designed by you,” open now. Click to learn more. To make an appointment, call 817-347-8100.