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Tips to keep kids (and teachers) healthy during the school year

August 17, 2015

Your child is healthy and is rarely sick.

Now you are sending her off to school for the first time where she will be exposed to all kinds of germs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most children while in the close quarters of the classroom will catch some 6-12 illnesses during the new school year from stomach bugs to pink eye and from colds to flu.

“Not only do you not want your child getting sick, but you don’t want them bringing germs home and exposing your family to illness,” said Dr. Matthew Sadof, a pediatrician at Baystate Children’s Hospital.

Importance of Vaccines

How can you help your child stay healthy and not bring germs home?

“Vaccinating your child against influenza and common childhood illness is the single most effective way to prevent serious childhood illness,” Dr. Sadof said.

He noted recent misinformation about vaccines created a fear in the community that led to under vaccination and one of the worst measles epidemics in 20 years in this country.

“When you vaccinate your child, you protect your child and other children who are too young or too ill to be vaccinated. When you don’t vaccinate your child, you are placing your child and other children at risk for serious illness including death,” he added.

Washing Hands

Next in importance - hand washing.

“You may have heard this over and over again during flu season, but one of the best things you can do to help protect your child is to teach him or her to wash their hands regularly. This is a healthy practice that you should instill in children long before they go to school, and hopefully it will become a habit they take with them into adulthood,” he said.

Children should be taught to wash their hands for a good 20 seconds (teach them to hum or sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice as they wash, which is equal to about 20 seconds) after going to the bathroom, blowing their nose, or when coming back indoors after playing outside during recess.

“For when a sink isn’t readily available in the classroom, purchase a small bottle of hand sanitizer which your child can keep in his or her backpack or desk,” Dr. Sadof said.

Best Practices

Teaching a child to share is always a good thing, but while at school, because of germs, you should explain to them not to share things like water bottles, food, crayons and other items.

Other tips include:

  • Teaching children to cough or sneeze into their sleeve instead of their hands, which can more easily spread germs.
  • Using a tissue only once, instead of carrying it around and spreading germs.
  • Staying away from the water fountain and encouraging drinking from bottled water in school.

The CDC estimates 6-12 million lice infestations occur each year in the United States among children ages 3-11. You can reduce your child’s chances of catching these tiny critters by telling him or her not to share hats or scarves or coats. Keep hair relatively short or tied up to prevent hair-to-hair contact.

“Head lice is a nuisance, but not dangerous. It is treatable with special shampoos, and once treated children can return to school,” Dr. Sadof said.

Also, don’t send your child to school when he or she is sick.

“This can be a difficult call for working parents, but in general children should stay home if they have a fever greater than 100.4° F. Children who don’t feel well can’t concentrate well enough to learn in school, so it is best that they rest at home while not infecting others at school, then be ready to continue their learning when they return to the classroom,” Dr. Sadof said.

Pitching In

Parents and caregivers can also play a role in helping to keep their child’s classroom a clean and healthy environment.

“Teachers buy many of their classroom supplies using their own pocket money. You can help them by donating items monthly such as tissues, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizers and other products,” said Dr. Sadof about helping teachers maintain a clean environment for their students and themselves.

Advice for teachers

And, what about teachers? How can they stay healthy when exposed to so many children in the classroom day after day?

“Teachers can encourage and model good behaviors that prevent transmission of infection,” Dr. Sadof said.

He suggests that teachers:

  • Model and practice proper hand washing.
  • Get a flu shot, then tell students why it was important for you to do so and for them to be vaccinated.
  • Use a fist bump instead of a handshake.
  • Encourage children to cover their mouths when coughing. Have a nice supply of tissues, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizers in a box near, but not on your desk.