It's that time of the year when schoolkids lament the end of the summer and parents enjoy their child's return to the classroom. However, keeping those kids in the classroom rather than at home sick is easier said than done, especially since the common cold and other illnesses can spread quickly in a school setting.
"Anytime you put people together in any type of crowded conditions, including schools, you see an increase in infectious diseases," said Vincent Fischetti, head of the bacterial pathogenesis and immunology laboratory at Rockefeller University in New York City.
The youngest students are particularly susceptible to catching illnesses, said Sandi Delack, president of the National Association of School Nurses. Aside from the fact that their immune systems are not fully built up, they are always sticking their hands in their mouths. "Parents of kindergartners are amazed at how often their kids get sick," Delack said. She reminds parents that all those illnesses aren't completely a bad thing, because as the child is exposed to new pathogens, he also develops a stronger immunity.
So how can you keep your kids healthier? Teaching and enforcing good hygiene habits is key. "Hand washing really is the most important thing," Fischetti said, explaining that touching infected surfaces and then touching your mouth or eating food you handled is a prime transmission route.