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By Alan Greene, MD, FAAP
Each year, the first day of school is a new beginning, filled with new opportunities. This is true for kids -- but it's also true for germs. What a hospitable setting for germs to thrive: a mix of many kids, in close proximity, for hours together indoors, with less-than-perfect hygiene habits, all headed together into cold and flu season.
We don't want the germs' success to interfere with our children's.
Getting several illnesses a year is a normal part of growing up and helps prepare the immune system for the future. But this is no reason to settle for extra, unnecessary episodes of colds and flus that could keep children home from school, interfere with the family's sleep, decrease attention and focus when kids do make it to school, and just plain don't feel good.
It's no wonder that a 2010 Seventh Generation Back to School Survey tells us that many teachers make a point of asking parents of their students to donate germ-fighting products at the beginning of the school year, with 60 percent of teachers specifically asking for disinfecting wipes. The survey also revealed that on average, teachers themselves will wipe the top of students' desks and disinfect potential germ hotspots, such as doorknobs, at least once a day.
But at the same time, more than 80 percent of teachers report concern about potential health problems, such as asthma, skin irritation and allergies, arising from the cleaning products used at school in an attempt to protect kids.
There are two effective strategies for reducing colds and flu 1) reducing unnecessary exposure to harmful germs and 2) improving your child's immune system. Here are a few tips for each:
Be wise about reducing unnecessary exposure to harmful germs
- Teach children the key times to clean their hands in the classroom. The most important times include after sneezing, coughing, or using the restroom, upon leaving "high-risk" places (recess, naptime, play stations), and before meals or snacks.
- Sixty percent of teachers surveyed said that they request that parents donate disinfecting wipes to the classroom. Seventh Generation's disinfecting wipes are Powered By CleanWell™ technology and kill 99.99% of germs* naturally, using the active ingredient thymol, a component of thyme oil, which is derived from the common garden herb thyme.
- Demonstrate to your children how to cover their mouth and nose for every cough and sneeze. This simple maneuver has spectacular results in decreasing the spread of viruses and bacteria floating about the room, waiting to be inhaled. Using the inside of the elbow can be great for coughs, to keep the hands clean.
*Refer to disinfecting product labels for full details
Optimize the immune system
- Build a strong foundation. Good food, good sleep, and good physical activity all help the immune system to flourish.
- Be sure your child is getting plenty of vitamin D from the sun, from food, or from a supplement. A 2010 placebo-controlled study showed those with adequate levels of vitamin D were less likely to get sick. Other nutrients help as well (e.g. iron and zinc). Good food is valuable in so many ways.
- Reap the benefits of probiotics like those found in yogurt. Another major recent placebo-controlled study showed that children who received enough probiotics daily throughout the cold and flu season had a significant reduction in the number of illnesses they had that year and, when they did get sick, the symptoms were both milder and didn't last as long. Germs aren't always bad; it's all about balance.
A Recipe for Success
By avoiding the extremes of too many illnesses, you can help create an environment to support your child's school adventure this year. Each year of school is a unique, unrepeatable season in a child's life. Let's make the most of it, and enjoy it before it is gone.