Pediatricians often note an influx of patients suffering from colds and other contagious illnesses shortly after school starts. It seems that moving so many children back into close proximity to one another challenges everybody’s immune system and sniffles abound. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 22 million school days are lost each year to the common cold alone!
When kids work and play in close proximity to one another during the school year, it’s easy for colds, flus, and other viruses to be passed around in a flash. But Dr. Michael Ramsey, President of the Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, says there are steps every parent can take to help their children—and others—stay healthy.
1. Vaccinations. “Make sure your school-aged child is up to date on all vaccinations,” says Ramsey. While most parents are vigilant about vaccinating during infancy, it’s easy to lose track of the schedule in later childhood. Not sure if your child has all the recommended shots? Call your pediatrician and ask them to check the records.
2. Flu vaccine. Pediatricians highly recommend that school children receive a dose of flu vaccine before the cold and flu season each year. “We’ve really gotten comfortable with the word ‘flu,’ but if this illness were known by a less familiar name, and I told parents that a wave of it was coming and would sicken countless children and adults, and kill 30 thousand in a year, they’d be more likely to insist on their child receiving that protection,” says Ramsey. It’s even more essential for kids who suffer from other chronic conditions like asthma or diabetes.
3. Frequent hand-washing or hand sanitizer. It’s really a no-brainer: cleaner hands carry fewer germs. Make sure your child’s teacher allows ample opportunities to wash or sanitize hands throughout the day, and that your child understands the importance of taking the time to do so.
4. Hands off the face. It may be difficult for younger kids to remember, but older children should know that the less they touch their eyes, nose, and mouth, the less likely they are to get sick. Those delicate facial areas are the gateway for contagions entering the body, and kids who keep their hands off have less exposure.
5. Proper rest and nutrition. “Well rested kids are more attentive to their health habits and have better immune resistance to potential sicknesses,” says Ramsey. Make sure your child gets the recommended amount of sleep and eats a well-rounded diet, especially during peak cold & flu season.
6. Sports environments and equipment. Older students note the exposure to some germs and illness through dirty athletic equipment and locker rooms. Make sure your child follows common-sense precautions regarding the sharing of equipment, and that equipment which has a great deal of direct-skin contact (like football pads) is frequently cleaned.
7. Practice “Community Wellness”. Be considerate of other families and honor the wellness rules before sending your child to school. Most schools require that children be fever-free for at least 24 hours before returning to school in order to stem the spread of colds and other contagious illnesses. “You really need to treat the situation in the way you’d want other parents to treat it before sending their child in to sit all day beside your well child,” Ramsey says. “We could all spare one another numerous bouts of illness by simply honoring the guidelines.”