PORTAGE, Mich. (WOOD) — Many West Michigan students are calling out of school and a lot of their parents are calling doctor’s offices, but the source of the sick days is not COVID-19, Dr. Megan Sikkema of Bronson Hospital explained.

“We’ve definitely seen a lot of our normal childhood illnesses attack us all at once,” Sikkema said.

From Kent County to Kalamazoo County, there is a noticeable increase in school absences in both counties, according to their respective health departments. The swarming microscopic bugs in question include stomach bugs, flu-like illnesses and the common cold.

Dr. Kira Sieplinga of Spectrum Health believes one key reason for the spike in sickness is less exposure to the bugs because of pandemic mitigation efforts, which means less trained immune systems to fight them off.

“They are now being exposed, sometimes for the first time, to some of these viruses, so they are getting sick more easily,” Sieplinga explained. “We are seeing an … unusual uptick in those viruses, leading to increased hospitalizations and emergency department visits.”

Sikkema added another cause for concern is less attention to hygiene.

“Hand hygiene is really key to helping these (gastrointestinal) bugs, especially, not spread,” Sikkema said. “They’re transferred from just not washing your hands appropriately and then, that close contact, which is harder and harder to avoid.”

Other than staying home from school, pediatricians urge parents to steady their kids’ hydration with water and electrolyte beverages and keep the Tylenol ready in case a fever breaks out. Most important: hygiene.

“You have to wash your hands,” Sieplinga emphasized. “You have to help your children wash their hands… making it a fun game with your children, making sure that they’re washing for long enough. So, you can sing the ABCs while you wash your hands with them, teaching them about the use of soap and water for that amount of time.”

Sikkema also called on parents to not confuse a stomach bug with the stomach flu. She explained a stomach bug usually involves anything with the digestive system, with common symptoms being vomiting and diarrhea. As for the stomach flu or any flu-like symptoms, Sikkema said that comes down to body aches, chills and especially fever. She asked parents to write down all symptoms to avoid any confusion between them and their doctor.