Texas Living

How to Protect Your Child From School Sickness

By Jennifer Chappell Smith 10.8.18

You hear that something’s going around the school and feel a pang of panic. Top priorities become stocking up on hand sanitizer and making flu shot appointments — anything to prevent the dreaded call from the school nurse.

By the middle of fall semester, cooler temperatures have brought longer life-spans for the bacteria and viruses that lurk in school hallways and locker rooms. And cold weather drives friends and family indoors, where cozy can equate to contagious.

“When it’s colder, people tend to flock together, and we share our germs,” says Dr. Sky Izaddoost, a pediatrician at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio Stone Oak.

From tummy bugs and flu to strep throat and colds, these illnesses range from mild to downright severe. But Izaddoost knows the best ways to help your kids fight back against school sickness.

No. 1. Get the flu vaccine for the whole family.

Based on scientists’ best guesses about this season’s strains of flu, the vaccine changes each year. The most recent flu season was a doozy in Texas. Unfortunately, the vaccine had a poorer performance, but it did help to make symptoms less severe.

“It didn’t do a good job of preventing the flu, but it was pretty good at preventing [people] from getting super sick,” says Izaddoost, noting that it had a 74 percent efficacy rate of keeping flu-stricken people out of the ER or hospital.

All told, she says, the vaccine is essential, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Mayo Clinic back her up. It takes about two weeks to become effective, though, so don’t put it off.

No. 2. Teach kids to wash their hands properly.

Izaddoost says she sees children casually squirting soap and splashing water around in public lavatories instead of doing a thorough scrub, which means rubbing soapy water over the top and bottom of hands, in between fingers, and under nails before rinsing it off. “The tips of the fingers are the parts we put in our mouths,” she says.

No. 3. Understand the limits of hand sanitizer.

It can be effective, and Izaddoost says it has value as a good alternative to hand-washing. But the CDC notes that these often alcohol-based solutions are not effective at eliminating certain school sickness threats, including the highly contagious norovirus — a severe stomach bug known for spreading on cruise ships. So, in schools that are almost as contained as an ocean liner, tell kids to use the hand sanitizer but wash their hands when possible.

No. 4. Offer to help teachers decontaminate.

By contributing disinfectant spray and wipes to her daughter’s classroom, Izaddoost tries to ease the burden on the teachers during cold and flu season. Enlist room parents and volunteers to wipe down desks and school supplies to help stop the spread of school sickness.

No. 5. Help kids understand how germs spread.

It’s all about keeping them out of your eyes, nose, and mouth. Explain that kids should avoid touching their faces and teach them to cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing with their elbow instead of their hand.  

Find out more about what health checkups your child needs.

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