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Sickness Syllabus

How can you keep your children healthy, whether they're still finger painting or driving themselves to school? Here's the rundown on sickness this school year.

By Katie McPherson - Monday, August 01, 2016

Each August, kids of all ages head back to school after summer vacation. Theyíve got their new backpacks loaded with sharp pencils, plenty of notebook paper and, according to the University of Colorado, an average of 332,000 different kinds of bacteria on their hands. So how can you keep your children healthy, whether theyíre still finger painting or driving themselves to school? Hereís the rundown on sickness this school year.

Pre-K & Kindergarten Prep

Bad news first: Your child will get sick from school.The average child entering kindergarten will have eight to 12 colds and one to two diarrheal episodes in one school year alone. All parents know this is the age when childrenís immune systems start taking their first major hits and will hopefully build up over time. But in the name of being prepared, what is your child most likely to come home with?

One of the most common illnesses for young children is bacterial conjunctivitis. Thatís rightóthe dreaded pink eye strikes most often in preschool and kindergarten classrooms. Itís caused by the same viruses and bacteria as other colds and infections and is typically spread by touching eyes with contaminated hands after touching something used by another infected child. Sinus infections and the common cold are also guaranteed to strike at an age where hands are used as tissues and toys and crayons are communal. The same goes for gastroenteritis, also known as the stomach bug.

Of course, before your little scholar sets foot in school, theyíre going to need a few vaccinations. According to FloridaHealth.gov, hereís the list of shots preschoolers and kindergarteners need:


Public And Non-public Preschool Entry Vaccinations:

DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis)

IPV (polio)

MMR (measles, mumps, rubella)

Hepatitis B



Public/Non-public Schools Kindergarten Through 12th Grade

(Required for children entering, attending or transferring to Florida schools)

Four or five doses of DTaP

Four or five doses of IPV

Two doses of MMR

Three doses of Hepatitis B

One Tetanus-diphtheria-acellular pertussis (Tdap)

Two doses of Varicella unless there is a history of varicella disease documented by a health care provider

Although the flu vaccine is not required by most pre-K and kindergarten schools, itís currently recommended for everyone 6 months and older. Serious flu complications typically only occur in children under 2, but an estimated 20,000 kids ages 6 months to 5 years are hospitalized with the flu and its complications each year. Children with chronic health problems like asthma or diabetes are at a higher risk for developing complications. Be sure to ask your pediatrician if the flu vaccination is right for your child.


Boosting Your Babiesí Immunity

Even daycare veteransí immune systems wonít win every battle. How can you keep your child healthy among the army of little nose-pickers at school?


1 Serve them as many fruits and vegetables as possible. Ideally, they should eat five servings a day, (two tablespoons for toddlers and one cup for older kids). Focus on foods rich in phytonutrients, like carrots, strawberries and orangesóstudies show they increase production of white blood cells, which fight viruses.

2 Get them to bed. Preschoolers need an average of 10 hours of sleep each night, but some may struggle to nap at school surrounded by playmates and activity. If your child is one of them, get them to bed in time to get 12 or 13 hours so their bodies can stay strong.

3 Prevent germ spread by washing hands, of course.Get kids more excited about the routine by letting them pick out soap in fun shapes and scents. Also, if a child falls ill with a bacterial infection (think strep) they can reinfect themselves later, so toss their toothbrush. Even if itís viral, the germs can easily brush hop, so replace their brush if only to defend everyone elseís.


Elementary Illness

Thereís no crazy vaccine list this timeóparents probably have their hands full with the elementary school supply list as it is. That said, there are some new sicknesses on the block, but you can add a few more bacteria-busting tactics to your childís wellness arsenal, too.

Anywhere from 6 million to 12 million cases of lice are reported in children ages 3 through 11 each year, more often in girls. Theyíre transmitted via head-to-head contact while playing. Itís less common for lice to travel on shared hairbrushes, clothing, hats, earphones, etc., but itís still a good idea to have your child keep their above-the-neck belongings to themselves.

Strep throat also occurs most commonly in children, as itís spread by sharing food and drink, airborne droplets from an uncontained cough or sneeze and touching doorknobs or surfaces shared with those already infected. Strep bacteria typically circulates in the fall and early spring, and it loves to make its way around groups of people in close contact (i.e. classrooms). Be sure to keep your childís teacher stocked on hand sanitizer, and make sure your children have all the supplies they need to avoid borrowing a pencil from a sick neighbor or touching the community sharpener.

As always, the common cold will be back for a few more bouts this year. Most students average three to five colds each year.


Listen Up, Kids

Now that the kiddos are old enough to remember, try discussing some tips for fighting germs while theyíre at school.

Wash hands with soap and water for 20-30 seconds (sing a song if counting is boring!), especially before itís time to eat snacks or lunch. If they canít get to a sink, rub hand sanitizer all over and in between fingers for 30 seconds until dry (more singing here, of course).

Avoid touching the face with unwashed hands throughout the day.

If they know a classmate is sick, try to avoid touching their desk and belongings.

Avoid close contact like kissing, hugging, close proximity games and sharing food with other children.

Time for Germs 101. Teach children not to touch their mouths to water fountains while drinking and not to eat food that has dropped from their plate onto their cafeteria tray or table. In 2005, a study of germs in schools discovered plastic cafeteria trays and water fountain spigots are the most germ-ridden parts of any school with 2,700,000 bacteria per square inch on the spigot and 33,800 on the tray. If your kids donít take this lesson seriously, tell them there are 3,200 bacteria per square inch on a toilet seat for comparison.


Pros & Cons Of Probiotics

Immunity is the biggest reason parents purchase probiotic supplements for their families, but in 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a clinical report stating that itís unclear how effective these supplements may be. Also, the FDA doesnít approve probiotic supplements before theyíre marketed as they would with medicines, and there are a multitude of brands on the shelves to choose from without much information about how theyíre different.

Although no studies have been done proving their effectiveness, probiotic supplement use stems from research showing a link between a healthy GI tract and a strong immune system. They also pose no threat to health. There are several different strains of probiotics available, with Lactobacillus GG being the most thoroughly studied (itís used in the popular brand Culturelle).

In short, taking a probiotic should theoretically strengthen your childís immune system. There may not be any science to back it up just yet, but hey, it canít hurt.


Middle School Immunity

Itís sad to see them getting older, but without playing tag at recess and sharing crayons anymore, middle-schoolers are less likely to come home sick than younger children. This transition is easier than others, too, as only one shot is needed before the first day.

Required to Enter 7th Grade:

TDAP (Tetanus-diphtheria-acellular pertussis)

Shut Down Sharing

The same old colds, streps and infections will keep coming around in middle school, but a few new varieties may crop up at this age thanks to P.E. class and puberty. All those lessons about sharing is caring? Tell your middle-schooler to forget it, at least when it pertains to personal items and locker room necessities.

Besides food or drinks, students should not share lip balms, makeup, razors, shaving creams or lotions to avoid skin infections like MRSA and herpes. These can also spread on ear buds, locker room towels, sports uniforms, helmets and gloves.


Gardasil: Not Just For Girls

Itís not fun for parents to think about, but this is the age when sexually transmitted infections become part of your childís health equation. Young people ages 15 to 24 represent 50 percent of new cases of the human papillomavirus (HPV) each year. It can lead to genital warts and, in girls, even cervical cancer.

Gardasil, the HPV vaccination, is recommended for girls and boys ages 11 through 26 who have not been exposed to the human papillomavirus. Gardasil protects against 90 percent of genital warts cases, 70 percent of cervical cancer cases and 70 percent of vaginal cancer cases.

The CDC recommends vaccinating boys and girls between ages 11 and 12 before exposure to HPV, but anyone 13 through 26 who has not yet been vaccinated or exposed should also ask their doctors if Gardasil is a good choice for them.


Pesky Birds, Stupid Bees

We know having The Talk with your son or daughter sounds as pleasant as pulling out your hair, but the time has come. (While middle school might seem a bit early, we say the sooner the better. You can bet that if you donít talk to them about sex and their changing body, theyíll get infoólikely wrong infoófrom their friends or the Internet.) If teens canít be trusted to wash their hands, matters of STDs and STIs should not be left to chance. Impress upon your middle-schooler the dangers of unsafe sex, and talk frankly about their options for protection.


Hello, High School

Classes and extracurriculars may start piling up, so parents, be sure to stay in tune with your childís stress levels. Sharing stress management techniques may help high-schoolers handle this new level of responsibility and keep their immune system strong as a result. As always, keeping the fridge stocked with healthy snack options is beneficial, too. Oh, and thereís one new sickness on the radar.

Mononucleosis crops up most in people ages 15 through 17, and while itís not terribly common, the symptoms can last for months. Itís known to be spread through kissing but can also travel on shared utensils, drinks, lip glosses or anything else that touches the mouth, so kindly request your teens keep their saliva to themselves.


Hygiene In High School

By this point, we all know washing hands is important to prevent sickness. That is, everyone knows it except for those stinkiní teenagers. WebMD.com references a study that found only about half of high school students wash their hands after using the bathroom, and of those, only 33 percent of the girls and a gross 8 percent of the boys actually used soap. Send your teen to school with a mini hand sanitizer for their own convenience, and try to impress upon them that the importance of hand washing didnít end in pre-K.


Off To College

Going to school with thousands of other people is a surefire way to increase exposure to illnesses of every severity. Living in a dorm compounds those chances, as tight quarters are a given. How can new students stay healthy?

The CDC recommends that first-year college students living in residence halls receive the meningococcal conjugate vaccine or get a booster shot if they had it before their 16th birthday to be safe. Thatís because meningitis thrives in community spaces just like dorms and is most common in adolescents and young adults. Itís spread by saliva, living with a contaminated person and even breathing air where someone with meningitis has been. Itís easy to see why numerous campus outbreaks have been reported in recent years.


Dorm Dos and Doníts

How can your college student keep sickness at bay while living in a dorm?

1 Donít leave toothbrushes, towels or other personal items in the bathroom where germs may crawl onto them (or less gracious neighbors may use them).

2 Donít share utensils or dishes, especially with someone who is clearly sick.

3 Stay current on vaccinations. This keeps individuals safe and gives illnesses one less person to use as a transmission vehicle. Many schools include health fees in tuition, so ask the student health center about vaccinations included in that costóthe annual flu shot may already be paid for.

4 Students should keep personal space clean and disinfect doorknobs and shared surfaces frequently.

5 Mom and Dad, make sure to stress the importance of eating well, prioritizing sleep and managing stress now that your kiddo is in charge of his or her own immune system. Oh, and toss some travel-size hand sanitizer into those care packages!  

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