prevent the top winter school infections

Simple precautions can help keep kids healthy as they head back to school. Teaching kids to keep their hands clean is the number one way to avoid sick days. In fact, a study published in the August issue of American Journal of Infection Control, reported that after students ages 5 to 15 received one lesson in hand hygiene where they learned to disinfect their hands with ethanol gel sanitizer three times during the school day, the number of kids who missed four or more school days due to illness dropped by 66 percent.

What’s more, the researchers also reported a 20 percent rise in the number of kids with perfect attendance, compared to the previous school year. Other studies show that kids—and their parents–stay healthier if children wash their hands with soap and warm water for 20 to 30 seconds (the length of time it takes to say the alphabet) several times a day to scrub away germs. Here’s a look at how to prevent the five contagious conditions kids are likely to catch at school:

Find out where germs are lurking in your home and learn how to keep things clean.

1. Colds: Kindergarteners average 12 colds a year, while older kids develop about seven. The cold season runs from September to March, making these the highest risk months. The virus that causes this upper respiratory tract can live for several hours on contaminated objects, such as door handles, books, pens, or a computer keyboard or mouse.

Prevention: Along with frequent hand washing, taking a reusable water bottle to school instead of using the water fountain can reduce kids’ risk for colds and other infections since the parts of the fountain that students touch can become contaminated with germs. If your kids catch a cold, teach them to sneeze or cough into a tissue (or the inside of their elbow, if they don’t have a tissue) instead of their hands, so they don’t spread the virus to everything they touch.

2. Pinkeye. Also called conjunctivitis, pinkeye is a highly contagious viral or bacterial infection of the membrane that lines the eyelid and part of the eyeball.

Symptoms include itchiness or a gritty feeling in one or both eyes, the white of the eye turning pink or red, and a crusty discharge. Pinkeye is much more common in kids than in adults and can also be sparked by allergies.

Prevention: Teach kids not to share tissues, towels, washcloths, eye makeup or eye drops with other people. If your child has allergies, dust and vacuum often to reduce allergens in your home and close windows when the pollen count is high.

Provide your kids with healthy lunches to keep their immunity strong: 7 Healthy Lunch Ideas.

3. Strep Throat. This bacterial infection of the throat is most common in kids ages 5 to 15 and can sometimes have serious complications, including rheumatic fever, which can damage heart valves. Caused by group A streptococcal bacteria, strep throat strikes in crowded environments such as schools, with late fall and early spring being the peak seasons.

Prevention: Good hand hygiene and not sharing food, beverages, eating utensils or toothbrushes are the best ways to avoid strep throat. If your child catches it, sanitize his or her eating utensils in hot soapy water or the dishwasher. Get your child a new toothbrush once he or she is no longer contagious—but still on antibiotic treatment—advises University of Maryland. Otherwise, the bacteria can survive in the toothbrush and cause re-infection.

4. Head Lice. More common in girls than in boys, head lice typically attack kids ages 3 to 12. The tiny parasitic bugs don’t spread disease and aren’t a sign of a dirty home. Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued new recommendations saying that kids with lice or nits shouldn’t be excluded from school. National Pediculosis Association advises a “no nits” policy for schools.

Prevention: Discourage kids from sharing hairbrushes, combs, hair ornaments, scarves, ribbons, hats and other headwear. Avoiding head-to-head contact during play, as sports and slumber parties curb the spread of lice, the Centers for Disease Control reports.

5. Molluscum Contagiosum. Although this skin rash is common in kids ages 1 to 10, many parents have never heard of it. Triggered by a viral infection, it causes pink, white or flesh-colored bumps. As the name suggests, molluscum contagiosum is contagious, mainly through skin-to-skin contact or contact with contaminated objects, such as clothing or toys.

Prevention: Hand hygiene and not sharing personal items, including clothing, towels, and hairbrushes, are the best ways to avoid this skin infection, which typically clears up without treatment in 6 to 12 months.