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Back to school may mean back to germs

Family Health
Aug 6, 2019

St. Joseph’s/Candler Director of Pediatric Emergency Medicine offers tips to try to avoid common schoolhouse ailments

The start of a new school year is exciting for many. Kids are returning to their friends and playgrounds, while parents return to some sort of normalcy.

Dr. John Rowlett, pediatric emergency medicine doctorAnd as summer fades to fall and kids settle into a new school year, back to school also can bring frequent colds, strep throat and trips to the doctor’s office.

“Absolutely kids get sick more often during the school year because they are frequently around sick people,” says Dr. John Rowlett, St. Joseph’s/Candler Director of Pediatric Emergency Medicine.

It starts with germs. Germs are how illnesses spread. One of the biggest things parents can do is to make sure their kids follow proper hand washing techniques.

“Particularly younger kids are not good about washing their hands,” Dr. Rowlett says. “They put things in their mouths. They touch gross things, and the younger they are, the weaker their immune system.”

Proper hand washing

Cold and other viruses can be transmitted by coughing, sneezing or simply coming into contact with someone who is sick and then touching your mouth or nose, explains Rita Allen, RN, CIC, infection preventionist at St. Joseph’s/Candler. Our mouth and nose are ways for germs to enter our bodies and cause illness.

Germs can be anywhere from doorknobs to library books to bus seats. And while it may not be possible to avoid touching these germy spots, especially in a schoolhouse setting, a simple solution is to wash your hands frequently.

“It’s important to clean frequently-touched items and obviously our hands too because we touch everything,” Allen says. “We touch everything around us and then we touch our faces, so by washing our hands we interrupt the spread of germs.”

Proper hand washing involves five simple and effective steps that parents can teach their children at a young age – wet, lather, scrub, rinse and dry.

  1. Rita Allen, infection control nurseWet your hands with clean, running water and apply soap
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and around your nail beds
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water
  5. Dry your hands with a clean towel or air dry them

If you are in a situation where soap and water are not readily available, Allen recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer – something to add to the back-to-school shopping list.

Other tips to avoid that back-to-school cold

There are other easy and affordable ways to help your child stay healthy during the school year, Dr. Rowlett says. He also suggests:

  • Getting adequate amounts of sleep
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet
  • Keep a routine as best as possible
  • Getting a flu shot

“Influenza is pretty easy to get if you are exposed to it,” Dr. Rowlett says. “The best thing to do is to get the vaccine so you are protected from it. You can make it a family project – everybody goes together and gets one.”

Related Article: Parents: Has your child got a flu shot yet?

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