Beating back-to-school bugs

By: Aug 23, 2010

Do your kids get sick the minute they step back inside the classroom? Here’s how to keep them healthy this year

For many parents, back to school means stocking up on pencil cases, lunch boxes – and remedies for back-to-school bugs.

Why do the sniffles always seem to be synonymous with back to school? It’s just that time of year, says Dr. Denise Chapple, a pediatrician in Kamloops, B.C. “Several viruses are more prevalent during certain seasons,” she says. “Plus, when you have 20 kids in a room, the exposure to viruses increases that much more.”

Here are five things you can do to help your child stay healthy this fall:

1. Water works best

When it comes to keeping back-to-school bugs at bay, hand washing is key, says Dr. Chapple. And since close to 80 per cent of infectious diseases are transmitted by touch, it’s important to do it right – which means rubbing your hands together with soap and water for 15 to 30 seconds. (A rousing round of the ABC song is usually a good way to help children gauge how long they need to scrub.)

It’s important to remind kids to wash their wrists, between their fingers and underneath their fingernails as well. Rinsing and drying with a clean towel are also important steps in the process to ensure hands are bug-free.

2. Sanitize

In a pinch, it’s a good idea to have a bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer on hand for times when soap and water are nowhere to be found. Choose sanitizer that contains at least 60 per cent alcohol and make sure kids know to apply enough to wet their hands completely, and to rub their hands until they’re dry.

3. Don’t share

When it comes to colds and flu, another preventive measure is getting kids to avoid sharing food or drinks with their friends, which can tricky, considering you’ve devoted so much energy to teaching them how nice it is to share. “Most kids don’t like getting sick, so just educating them as to why they are doing it is helpful,” says Dr. Chapple.

4. Hands free

Teach kids to cough and sneeze into their elbows, instead of their hands, as a way to prevent germs from spreading.  (Reminding them that “sneezing into their sleeves” might mean one less hand wash is often a good motivator!) 

5. Keep to yourself

“Don’t send your kids to school if they have a fever, vomiting, diarrhea, open skin rash or a severe cough,” says Dr. Chapple. Although it may mean finding childcare or staying home yourself, school is no place for a sick kid. They’ll feel better (and get well faster), if they’re home resting. Besides, you don’t want to be known as the parent who brought the bug into the classroom.