Strep Throat. Stomach bugs. Ear infections. Flu. Colds. Pink Eye. For most families, back to school means back to many common illnesses that kids catch during the school year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most kids experience 6 to 12 illnesses each year ranging from mild to severe. Why do most kids enjoy a mainly illness-free summer yet during the school year battle colds, flu, and the like? Because most common ailments are viruses and easily passed from child to child in close quarters like classrooms. How can you keep your child healthy this school year? Read on.
1.) Make sure immunizations are up to date. At your child's annual physical, be sure to check with your pediatrician that all of your child's immunizations are up to date, and see what optional immunizations are recommended (seasonal flu, H1N1, etc.). For the child who is wary of shots, most doctor's offices offer the seasonal flu shot in a nasal mist form as well, so ask your doctor and avoid melt downs at your appointment.
2.) Hand washing, hand washing, hand washing. Did I mention hand washing? Frequent and thorough (fronts and backs of hands up to the wrist, and finger nails) hand washing with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds (as long as it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" - slowly!) is the number one most effective way to prevent viruses from spreading. How do they spread? Way too easily, especially when it comes to kids. Germs spread when sick kids sneeze or cough without covering their mouths and/or noses, or wipe their noses and touch common surfaces such as door knobs, desks, pencils, or another person. Send hand sanitizer with your child to school and encourage use when they can't get to a sink for hand washing. Remember to keep things in perspective - you don't want to turn your child into a hand washing addict. They should wash their hands after visiting the bathroom or playing outside, before they eat, and after they come in contact with someone who is under the weather.
3.) Sneezing and coughing etiquette. Make sure to teach your child how to sneeze and cough into their elbow or a tissue to prevent germs from spreading. When classmates are sick, instruct your kids to avoid touching their own eyes, nose and mouth to avoid infection, as germs enter through these orifices.
4.) Keep it clean at home. Remember to frequently clean common surface areas in your home like doorknobs, light switches, phones, remotes, and faucet handles, especially during cold and flu season. When siblings are sick, limit contact with well siblings. If one of your kids has a serious virus like the flu or stomach bug, consider quarantining her to one room and establish one family member as the caretaker to try and avoid spreading the virus.
5.) When in doubt, keep your child at home. Viruses are spread in school when infected kids come to school. Always follow your school's guidelines as to when sick kids should be kept home. If your child has a temperature over 100.5, a spontaneous rash, a severe cough or sore throat, diarrhea or vomiting, they should stay home. A run of the mill cold or mild sore throat can be tolerated at school - of course make sure your child uses proper sneezing and coughing etiquette and hand washing!
6.) Healthy habits keep kids' immune systems strong and illness at bay. Lots of sleep, daily exercise (at least an hour of daily active play) and a healthy diet (no junk food and shoot for 3 servings of fruit and 4 of veggies each day) play a huge role in maintaining your kids' immune system, as healthy kids are better able to ward off illness then those with poor sleep habits, unhealthy diets, and sedentary lifestyles.
So remember, childhood illnesses are part of life and usually just require a few days rest before your child is back to their normal routines. If you incorporate these healthy habits into your family's lifestyle, you can limit the number and severity of these inevitable viruses for your kids.