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Beating Back-to-School Germs

Sick already? Here's why heading back to the classroom can make kids sick, and how to get ahead of the germs that cause fall sniffles.

Amid the excitement of the start of the school year and the return of routine, it’s easy to get comfortable and forget about the downside to kids spending a lot of time together in a small space: exposure to microscopic, omnipresent germs.
If your kid has the fall sniffles, that’s because when classes start, children spend more time indoors with other children who may have mild symptoms and not even be aware. “It’s the busiest season for pediatricians,” said Dr. David M. Pollack, a Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia pediatrician. “This is the time of year when contagious illnesses dominate the scene for families and healthcare providers.”
We know germs are all around us, but not all germs, a.k.a. bacteria and viruses, are dangerous. Some keep us healthy, like those in our gut, while others can lead to sickness or disease. To fight back, teach your little learner about some of the more commonly overlooked germ hideouts at school: desks, playground equipment, backpacks, water fountains and cafeteria trays.

Kids Can Help Prevent the Spread of Germs

Keeping the sniffles, sneezes, and coughs caused by germ-related illnesses can be prevented, fairly easily, by teaching them a few basic health habits that can make a big difference:
• It’s effective enough to keep repeating: Wash your hands! Sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice and use warm, soapy water.

• Especially for younger kids, teach them to keep their hands off their face and mouths, said Dr. Vanessa Carlo, a primary care pediatrician at Nemours duPont Pediatrics in Philadelphia.

• Cough or sneeze into their elbow and “wash their hands thoroughly, right away, to minimize the spread of germs to others,” she said.
Have kids carry their own water bottle in order to avoid drinking from the spigot at community fountains, Pollack said.

Outsmart Germs

Minimizing exposure to bacteria and viruses that cause colds and other illnesses is in our kids’ best interests. Pollack recommends making sure your child is fully vaccinated, including an annual flu vaccine for any kid over 6 months old. And even though most working parents cringe at the sight of a fever reading on the thermometer, “to minimize the spread of germs at school, parents should try their best to keep their kids home when they’re not feeling well,” Carlos said.
Here are some other ways to keep germs at bay:
• Once a week, clean and sanitize backpacks; repeat the same exercise daily with lunchboxes.

• Provide sufficient school supplies (like, pens, paper, books, food, utensils), which are prime germ-lingering surfaces.

• Discourage sharing of sports equipment and cosmetics.

• Offer to coordinate a system between parents to provide hand sanitizers and disposable tissues for schools with limited budgets.
If what you think is a cold just won’t let up, it might be allergies, which can act up in the fall because of the drier air and skyrocketing pollen counts. As always, don’t hesitate to call your doctor if your child’s illness gets worse.
Photograph via Canva.