Teach Germs a Lesson

Kids returned to school this week, only a few days before the beginning of the September-May cold season. The timing and close contact among children make school settings ripe for the spread of germs, including viruses and bacteria.

The average school-age child in the United States has six to 10 colds a year. And schools are ideal environments for germs to circulate – both on hard surfaces or through contact with others. Children are susceptible when they gather in classrooms, hallways, cafeterias and during outdoor activities on school grounds.

The most commonly treated infections are of the upper-respiratory variety, including common colds, strep throat, sinus and ear infections. In more serious cases, children contract influenza (the flu), both types A and B. The flu is highly contagious, particularly in close quarters like classrooms.

“The most effective way for keeping your child from these illnesses is by washing their hands frequently – before they eat, every time they go to the bathroom and after going coming in from playing outside,” said Fernando Mendoza, M.D., Medical Director, Children’s Emergency Center at Baptist Children’s Hospital, and Associate Medical Director of Emergency Services for West Kendall Baptist Hospital. “As healthcare providers, we know how important it is to wash our hands before and after treating patients.”

The most effective hand-washing involves applying soap and water and rubbing your hands together. How long? It should take at least 20 seconds, or the length of time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.

It’s also important to keep open wounds or lesions bandaged or somehow covered – even scraped knees – to prevent serious infections such as MRSA, which stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, Dr. Mendoza said.


Parents also need to make sure their children’s immunizations, including flu shots, are up-to-date,. The flu is often seen among children treated at emergency rooms and urgent care centers. A high fever, vomiting and diarrhea are the symptoms to look out for.

The younger the child, the more infections he or she is likely to contract, since immune systems take time to build up. Kindergarteners  average 12 colds a year.

Head Lice

Head lice infection also is common. It is estimated that up to one in every 10 children in school gets head lice at some time. Anyone who comes in close contact with someone who already has head lice, or  their contaminated clothing and other belongings, is at risk for acquiring head lice.

Preschool and elementary-school children (3-10 years of age) and their families are infected most often with head lice. Discourage your kids from sharing hairbrushes, combs, hair accessories, hats and other headwear to avoid getting head lice.

What More Can Parents Can Do

Parents, teachers or other school personnel should instruct children how to prevent  the spread of respiratory illnesses. For example, the nose and mouth should be covered with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and the tissue should be thrown in the trash immediately after use.

Lost School Days

Infectious diseases account for millions of school days lost each year for kindergarten through 12th-grade public school students in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • 40 percent of children, aged 5–17 years, missed three or more school days in the past year because of illness or injury.
  •  Nearly 22 million school days are lost each year due to colds alone.
  •  38 million school days are lost each year due to the influenza virus.
  • What Schools Can Do

    Schools foster the transmission of infections, because people are in close contact and share supplies and equipment. But schools also can be instrumental in keeping their communities healthy by following these steps, according to the CDC:

  • Encourage sick students and staff to stay home and seek medical attention for severe illness.
  • Facilitate hand hygiene by having sufficient supplies of soap and paper towels, and teaching good hand hygiene practices.
  • Be vigilant about cleaning and disinfecting classroom materials and surfaces.
  • Provide daily announcements about preventing infectious disease.
  • Adopt healthy practices, such as safe handling of food and use of standard precautions when handling body fluids and excretions.
  • Encourage students and staff to get annual influenza vaccinations.
  • Healthcare that Cares

    With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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