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Back-to-School Health Concerns

As kids head back to school, parents are often on edge about possible illnesses common among youngsters. Kids working and playing in close conditions can quickly spread illness. Here are some of the most common conditions and how to avoid them.

  • Common cold: By far the most common illness among school children, the cold is an airborne virus that spreads by infected people coughing or by touching an infected person. The best prevention for colds is handwashing. “Wash your hands as much as you can stand, and then some more—especially after wrapping up a visit with someone who’s sick,” Dr. Alan Pocinki of George Washington Hospital in Washington, D.C., told WebMD.
  • Flu: Back-to-school time coincides with the beginning of flu season. Influenza, or “the flu,” is a highly contagious respiratory virus that is spread through the air and by touch. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “People with flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away.” Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly via droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. To avoid the flu, have children wash their hands frequently and get a flu shot.
  • Pink eye/Conjunctivitis: Pink eye is redness and swelling of the conjunctiva, the mucous membrane that lines the eyelid and eye. Viral pink eye is contagious and is spread by touching an infected person or by touching something an infected person has touched. Frequent handwashing can help prevent pink eye.
  • Strep Throat: Strep throat is a sore throat on steroids. It is a bacterial infection that causes inflammation and pain in the throat. Strep throat can affect children and adults of all ages. Sneezing and coughing can spread the infection from one person to another. The good news is that strep throat can usually be treated with antibiotics.
  • Dehydration: Lack of hydration can be a problem, especially when children play outside in hot weather. They usually don’t know their limits. This is not a disease or illness but a condition that results in fatigue and heat stroke. It is not contagious, and prevention is simple: drink plenty of water.
  • Gastroenteritis: Stomach illnesses can be spread like a cold or flu, but can also be acquired by eating contaminated food or water. In addition to frequent handwashing, cleaning food thoroughly is another way to reduce the risk of infection. It can be prevented by, you guessed it, frequent handwashing.
  • Head lice: Head lice are a school ritual most parents would be happy to avoid. Like other conditions, lice are spread person-to-person, but in this case, it’s more about head-to-head contact. Lice can’t jump or fly, but when children’s heads touch one another, which can occur in schools as kids gather in and out of the classroom, lice can easily spread. Teach children to avoid head-to-head contact and share clothes that have contact with hair. Also, shorter hair or hair tied back can reduce the risk of lice spreading. Handwashing won’t help you here, as lice are not germs and have nothing to do with hygiene.

If you haven’t washed your hands by now, you’ll want to. It’s important to get children in the habit of regular hand washing as well to prevent illnesses common among school children.

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