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Pencils, Books, and Bugs: How to Keep Kids Safe from Germs at School

Medically reviewed by Karen Gill, MD on February 13, 2018Written by Valencia Higeura on February 13, 2018
pencils books and bugs

It’s called the common cold for a reason: Children can catch as many as six to eight a year. But colds aren’t the only unpleasant illnesses children are at risk of getting.

They can also get rashes, ear infections, the stomach bug, and other medical problems. A lot of the time, they pick up the germs for these conditions from school.

Many children sit in a classroom with 20 or 30 other students for five days a week, but it only takes one sick child to spread germs to an entire classroom.

Even if you take certain measures at home, your children can come in contact with germs that linger on desks, doorknobs, lockers, and other surfaces at school.

It’s important to know how to keep your children safe, as well as where to take them for fast care if they do become ill and you’re unable to have them see their regular doctor.

1. Keep their hands clean

The common cold can spread like wildfire in school. It can cause a variety of symptoms, like a sore throat, a hacking cough, congestion, headaches, and mild fatigue. There’s no cure for the common cold, and most infections clear up after a few days.

Preventive measures can help keep your child (and your family) safe from germs. Teach your children the importance of washing their hands during the day, particularly before eating meals. Washing their hands with soap and water is best.

Though hand sanitizer is less effective, you could include a small bottle in their lunch box or book bag. This way, if they can’t readily wash their hands, they can disinfect their hands throughout the day.

Also, encourage children not to touch their mouth, face, or nose with their hands. This reduces the risk of the common cold, and it can help keep them safe from other contagious infections, such as pinkeye.

2. Get the flu vaccine

The flu is more serious than the common cold. Symptoms might include a high fever, exhaustion, coughing, congestion, and severe body aches. Like the common cold, the flu virus can also spread rapidly in schools. And once sick, it might take one or two weeks for your child to recover.

The flu vaccine can reduce the risk of getting the flu by 40 to 60 percent, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Getting vaccinated can also help protect against flu-related secondary infections like ear infections and pneumonia.

To protect your child during flu season, visit your nearest urgent care center and request the flu vaccine. These clinics don’t require an appointment, although you may be allowed to check in online. Some urgent care clinics have lower age limits for giving the flu vaccine, so check before you go.

Urgent care centers are also convenient when your child needs medication for allergies, an infection, or pain if you can’t get an appointment with their regular doctor. Let your doctor’s office know about any vaccines given or diagnoses made at an urgent care center so they can be added to your child’s medical record.

3. Teach them not to share drinks and food

Sharing food or drink with a friend can spread cold and flu germs. Also, your child could get sick with other contagious illnesses that spread through direct contact with saliva or mucus. These include mononucleosis, stomach viruses, and hand, foot, and mouth disease.

Also, make sure your child avoids sharing personal items such as hats and scarves. Some highly contagious illnesses and infections are passed that way, including head lice and ringworm.

4. Get moving

Physical activity is important for strengthening children’s immune systems and helping their bodies fight off infections.

Get creative and think of fun ways to be physically active as a family. Play sports outside, such as basketball or kickball. Or try other outdoor activities like skating, tennis, or bike riding. Your children might also enjoy dancing or playing tag.

Children ages 5 to 18 should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. And encouraging your children to be physically active might inspire you to be more physically fit, as well.

The takeaway

Keeping your kids healthy is always a priority. Although the above precautions can reduce the likelihood of your children getting sick, they will still come in contact with germs at school.

If they do contract an infection, don’t panic. For most issues that aren’t life-threatening, an urgent care center can provide fast and affordable care. Whether your child needs a vaccine to prevent the flu, evaluation for an infection, or medication to treat a head or skin condition like ringworm or head lice, urgent care is a suitable option when your regular doctor’s offices are closed.

You don’t need an appointment to visit an urgent care clinic, and some have online check-in. Just make sure that urgent care is covered under your health insurance policy.

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