From Kindergarten to College: School Those Germs!

Childhood infections aren’t just for little kids.  Germs don’t discriminate, and the college-bound guys get them, too.

When kids go back to school they’re close together in enclosed spaces, like classrooms. They’re all touching the same items and each other. It’s the perfect environment for bacteria and viruses to grow and spread. As any kindergarten teacher will tell you, those first months of the school year can be tough when it comes to getting sick. This is true for all age groups. Young kids get approximately 8 colds per year (almost one a month), and this decreases as they get older and develop immunity over time.

Here are some ways for kids of all ages (and their parents) to protect themselves, as well as some things to be aware of when you pack those teens off to campus.

Handwashing: We say say this over and over, but it’s your best protection against microbes. Most infections are carried on the hands, which then go to your face and get in through your eyes, nose, and mouth. Encourage your kids to use warm, soapy water and scrub for as long as it takes to sing the ABC song (about 20 seconds). Avoid eating or touching the face until you’ve washed your hands.

Avoid communal spots in the classroom, like the pencil sharpener: Everyone touches it and it rarely gets cleaned. Studies show it’s the dirtiest place in the classroom. Same goes for the water fountain, except that’s even worse because it tends to be near the bathrooms. Send your child with a re-usable water bottle.

Keyboards are difficult: Kids need to use them and they’re germ collectors. Most kids don’t feel comfortable pulling out the disinfectant wipes when they sit down at the computer. Have your child keep some hand sanitizer in his desk or backpack and use it after keyboarding.

Send tissues to school and encourage your child to use them instead of his sleeves. Throw them away immediately after use.

Sneeze and cough into your elbow instead of your hand. This can reduce the spread of germs by up to 80%.

Don’t borrow pencils, pens, or crayons from your buddy. Germs, germs, germs.

Don’t send your child to school sick: And the reverse is also true. If someone in school is acting sick encourage your kid to keep some space between them.

Make sure your child’s immunizations are up to date. This may seem obvious, but recommendations change frequently, and yours may benefit from something that wasn’t available until recently. This year the seasonal flu and the H1N1 formula will be together in the same vaccine. Make sure they get it, and make sure their pertussis vaccine is UTD.

Build their immune systems with a healthy diet of lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, plenty of sleep, and lots of exercise.We’re channeling Grandma again with this one, but some of those old saws were right on.

Finally, a few words about those big kids you’re sending off to college. They’re at as much risk as your little ones. Maybe more, because they’re living in dorms in very close quarters.

Last year swine flu SWEPT through college campuses like nowhere else, so make sure your teen has the flu vaccine, as well as the meningitis vaccine that prevents a lethal bacterial infection that can cause overwhelming sepsis.

Pertussis is making a big comeback, it’s epidemic in California and elsewhere, and teens may need a booster since immunity isn’t life-long.

Girls, and now boys, too, should have the HPV vaccine that protects against human papilloma virus, or genital warts. The best time is the early teen years, before the need is on the horizon. Of course your little darling is never going to be sexually active, but just in case …  it prevents more than 80% of cervical cancers in women.

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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.


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