Fall 2010

Germs at School: 4 Tips to Keep Your Child Healthy


As a parent, it is hard to stay on top of everything a school-age child needs to remember. However, be sure you and your child add fighting germs to the top of the list.

Even though flu season is not here yet, now is the time to start thinking about flu prevention practices. Here are four tips for keeping your child healthy and germ-free this school year:

  1. Get the flu vaccine.
  2. Promote consistent hand washing.
  3. Remember cough etiquette.
  4. Get plenty of rest.

Flu Vaccine

The annual flu vaccine prevents 70 to 90 percent of influenza illness. The new vaccine is usually available every October and some vaccine is already starting to arrive in the Austin area. Nearly all children older than 6 months are recommended to receive the vaccine.

"Sadly, tens of thousands of Americans die from flu-related illness each year, and many of them are children," said Dr. Stephen Pont, medical director of Austin ISD Student Health Services. "Children and the elderly are two groups at greatest risk for influenza-related complications and of becoming very sick. Vaccines, including the flu vaccine, are one huge step that we as parents can take to help prevent our children from suffering from severe and life-threatening illnesses."

Make an appointment with your medical provider to obtain a flu immunization. And stay tuned to for upcoming flu clinics in your community.

Hand Washing

Second only to vaccinations, hand washing is the most important act you and your child have for disease prevention. Get into the habit of washing hands often and thoroughly.

All day long, children are exposed to bacteria and viruses. Hand washing can stop the spread of infection. The key is to encourage children to wash their hands throughout the day: before eating, after a trip to the bathroom and after playing outdoors.

Studies on hand washing in public restrooms show that most people don't have very good hygiene habits. For the most effective hand washing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend the following steps:

  • Wet your hands.
  • Apply soap to your hands.
  • Rub your hands vigorously together - scrubbing every surface completely.
  • Keep rubbing and scrubbing for 10 to 15 seconds to effectively remove germs.
  • Rinse your hands completely and then dry them.

While 10 to 15 seconds sounds like an instant, it is much longer than you think. Time yourself the next time you wash your hands. A good rule of thumb is that singing the "Happy Birthday" song usually takes about 10-15 seconds.

Soap and water are best. However, when no sink is available, waterless soaps or alcohol-based hand gels or rubs can be an effective alternative.

Cough Etiquette

Discourage children from covering their mouths with their hands while coughing or sneezing. Most often, germs are spread by the hands, not through the air. Instead of using their hands, teach children to cough or sneeze into their elbow, sleeve or a tissue. Try turning it into a game, cough into your elbow instead of your hand.

Tissues should be thrown away immediately after each use, putting them in a nearby wastebasket or other container. And, of course, hands should be washed after handling a tissue.

Plenty of Rest

Ensuring that children get adequate sleep helps strengthen their immune systems and makes it more likely that they can fend off infection. Establish a regular bedtime routine, limit television right before bed and don't allow children to fall asleep with the television on. These steps can help to make bedtime easier and improve not only sleep quantity, but also quality.

When Your Child Is Sick

Even with all these safety measures, it is likely that some infections will be spread. Your school nurse, pediatrician or other medical provider can be a source of information when deciding what steps to take when you think your child may be ill. The American Academy of Pediatrics now has a free online symptom checker, Symptom Checker. The site provides great information and recommendations for when to call a physician and when to head to the emergency department.

If you don't have a medical provider, call 211 for help identifying a physician or clinic.

When to Stay Home

Help prevent the spread of infectious diseases by keeping contagious children home from school until they can no longer spread their illnesses to others. Children should stay home from school if they have a fever of 100.4 or higher, coughing and sneezing, body aches and extreme fatigue.

"If your child becomes ill, it is important to keep your child at home until they are better or fever has subsided," said Sally Freeman, BSN, RN, NCSN, director of Children's/AISD Student Health Services. "This recuperation period will benefit your child and decrease the spread of illness to others."

Children can return to school when fever-free and if they feel well enough to participate in normal activities.

Additional Links: Symptom Checker

About the Doctor:

Dr. Stephen Pont serves as the medical director for Children's/Austin Independent School District Student Health Services. Children's/Austin ISD SHS is a nationally recognized program operating out of Dell Children's Medical Center that provides coordinated student health services for all Austin ISD campuses.

Dr. Pont is on the pediatric faculty with UT Southwestern Austin at Dell Children's Medical Center and serves as an adjunct professor at UT Austin in the Department of Advertising. In addition, Dr. Pont is the medical director for the Texas Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity.


Good Health for Kids is produced by Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas.