Kids and germs seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly. But, there are ways that parents can help protect their kids from the usual barrage of back-to-school illnesses, a health expert says.
Make sure children get plenty of sleep and eat a well balanced diet, advises Jacqueline Stout-Aguilar. She’s a registered nurse and an assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Nursing.
Most kids need at least nine hours of sleep each night, Stout-Aguilar said. It’s also a good idea to make sure children get enough vitamin C to boost their immune system, she added.
Parents should also teach their children how to contain germs and keep their hands clean. Show kids how to cover their coughs and sneezes with the inside of their elbow or a tissue, Stout-Aguilar said. She said kids must also be taught how to wash their hands properly.
“It is important to wash your hands with soap, warm water and friction,” Stout-Aguilar said. “Teaching your children to wash their hands for as long as it takes to sing the alphabet would help kill a lot of germs.”
Children should also be fully vaccinated, Stout-Aguilar said. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children entering kindergarten should have received the following vaccines:
- Hepatitis A,
- Hepatitis B,
- Measles, mumps, rubella,
- Varicella (chickenpox),
- Seasonal influenza (flu),
- Tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (Tdap) booster,
- Pneumococcal vaccine.
Students entering high school and college freshmen living in dormitories also need the meningococcal vaccine, Stout-Aguilar said.
“Getting vaccinated is extremely important,” she said. “Many of these illnesses can be very serious, and getting vaccinated will keep your children, as well as other children, safe.”
At school, children can help keep their workspace clean and germ-free. “It’s perfectly fine to provide your child’s class with some antibacterial wipes to help kill germs on their desk or work stations,” Stout-Aguilar said.
Parents should remind their children to wash their hands frequently throughout the day, particularly before and after lunch, after using the restroom and after recess.
Despite these prevention efforts, some children will still get sick. It’s important for parents to recognize when their child has a virus or other infection and take steps to prevent spreading the illness to others, urged Stout-Aguilar. One of the most obvious signs that a child is sick: fever.
“A fever of 100.4 or higher is the biggest symptom to look for,” Stout-Aguilar said. “If your child has a fever, then they could have a viral or bacterial infection and should likely be seen by their primary care provider.”
Children must be fever-free for 24 hours without medication, or on provider-prescribed medication for at least 24 hours, before they can return to school, Stout-Aguilar said.
“Many parents will see that their child has a fever and give them something over the counter and send them to school,” Stout-Aguilar said. “Just because your child’s fever went down, it doesn’t mean that they’re cured. Sending your sick child to school can cause their condition to worsen and can cause the illness to spread throughout the classroom and, eventually, the entire school.”
When in doubt about whether or not their child is sick, Stout-Aguilar advises parents to be cautious and trust their instincts.
“You see your child everyday and know their behavior,” she said. “When it comes to their health, it’s better to err on the side of caution and make an appointment with their primary care provider.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more tips on how kids can avoid illnesses at school.
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