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August 15, 2014, CNN Health News: Avoid the Back to School Plague

“As a first-grade teacher, Julie Miller is exposed to a horrifying number of germs on a daily basis. ‘I've been thrown up on; they sneeze and cough on me. And lost teeth are a real big thing for first-graders,’ said Miller, who teaches at Spring Hills Elementary in the suburbs of Chicago. ‘They're so cute and unaware, though. They'll have boogers hanging out of their nose and will be talking to you and not think anything of it. Some teachers flip out, but I tell my students, 'Go get a Kleenex and wash your hands.' When they sneeze, I teach them to do it into their elbows. They learn eventually.’ On average, elementary school children get eight to 12 colds or cases of the flu each school year, according to the CDC. For the older kids, it is about half that. Teachers and parents commonly refer to it as the Back-to-School Plague. But there are simple ways to keep your kids healthy. Miller, who is getting her son Justin ready to go to kindergarten, isn't worried. 'I’ve taught my kids healthy habits; I'm sure they'll be fine,’ Miller said. She makes sure they get plenty of sleep, exercise regularly and eat healthy food. She's taught her children to wash their hands often, and she's hooked antibacterial gels on their backpacks for when they can't.”

Our thoughts: To help your children avoid illness and to help prevent illness from spreading in school and in the home, here are a few tips:

  1. Make sure children get enough rest - about 10-11 hours of sleep for school-aged kids, according to the CDC. When kids are tired and sleep deprived, this lowers the immune system and they are more likely to contract an illness.
  2. Regular exercise - this helps support all systems in the body for proper balance and health, including the immune system. A fit body will not only be less susceptible to illness, it will be better conditioned to fight off an illness once one starts.
  3. Proper nutrition - make certain that children are eating a balanced diet, preferably one that is full of fresh vegetables and fruit, lean proteins and low to no processed, sugar chemical-laden or overly-starchy foods. Children who have proper nutrients and micronutrients in their diets are better equipped to fight off infection and disease than those who eat a diet with fewer nutrients.
  4. Vitamin C isn’t a myth - eating foods rich in vitamin C such as oranges, kiwis and broccoli can help shorten the length of a cold. If you're kids aren't big on eating a lot of good food, perhaps a children's supplement is a good idea.
  5. Hand washing - this is a powerful defense against spreading germs and preventing illness. To keep germs from getting into the body, hand-washing is key.
  6. Tips for parents and teachers: Follow the advice above: get plenty of sleep, eat nutritious meals, wash your hands, exercise and manage stress to help keep illness away and prevent it from spreading once it comes.
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