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Back to School and Back to Germs

Back to School and Back to Germs

The excitement of children returning to school becomes anxiety when germs sneak into the house, making families susceptible to illnesses lasting into flu and cold season. Knowing this pattern keeps Melia Dicker vigilant about prevention strategies for her young children, Evan and Avery.

“Usually it’s the common viruses both children bring home and the rest of the family gets sick on some level,” said Dicker, a Jackson resident. “We’ve had colds, upper respiratory viruses and norovirus (known as winter vomiting bug) over the years. Everyone gets their flu shot.”

Common viruses little ones tend to bring home are common cold, flu, stomach virus, pink eye, strep throat and countless other germs causing infections. At school, germs camp out on restroom doors, cafeteria trays and lunch boxes, desks, classroom supplies and drinking fountains. Not only are harmful bacteria found at schools and offices, but homes can also harbor germs. Common places around the home where germs can hide are bathroom light switches, refrigerator handles, stove knobs, microwave handles, toothbrush holders, pet toys and kitchen counters.

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests children get up to date on well visits and vaccines and parents can help keep up healthy hygiene habits at home, like frequent handwashing and disinfecting common contact surfaces. AAP recommends students keeping safe distances in classes and assemblies, and parents should provide multiple face coverings and practice keeping them above the mouth and nose. If children show any signs of illness, it’s best to keep them at home and disinfect rooms and common areas. 

Dicker said wearing masks this past year prevented most of the illnesses they normally deal with. “Staying home, wearing masks when going out, the routine of sanitizing when we walk in the store and sanitizing hands as we leave and washing hands when we come in the door,” she said.

Family medicine specialist Dr. Timothy Quinn, of Quinn Healthcare in Ridgeland, said students are most likely to catch colds in the fall and winter due to constant contact of unwashed hands on surfaces (the average American child has six to 10 colds a year, according to WebMD). Quinn promotes teaching children about the risks of COVID-19 and maintaining safe distances from visibly sick peers and discouraging sharing of school supplies and snacks, or items or personal hygiene such as lip balm. 

“When you see a runny nose, cough or fever, go to the child’s medical provider to be evaluated for the flu and COVID-19 via nasal swab,” Quinn said. “Tamiflu is the most commonly prescribed medicine within 48 to 72 hours of symptoms, so parents should not delay.”

Parents can also donate germ supplies and masks to classrooms to mitigate risks. Stay on top of keeping book bags clean and help build children’s immunity through getting enough sleep and exercise, healthy food and avoiding stress. “Sleep is very important for a healthy immune system along with a healthy diet,” Quinn said. “Within reason, handle stress well and we should reduce it as parents ourselves. Be informed, but don’t overindulge; engage in healthy behaviors.”

Dicker’s efforts to teach Evan and Avery healthy habits have paid off. They understand how germs enter their bodies and remember to wash their hands, refrain from touching their faces, biting their nails, and sneezing into their elbows instead of their hands. The family is intentional about sleeping well and eating balanced meals. “We continue to be vigilant about taking temperatures before going to school and tell them what to look for when sick,” she said.

Terricha Phillips loves Jesus and good books, being a mom of two sweet children and home cooking with her husband James. Living in Jackson for 10 years left an indelible impression on her life, because it is where she matured into motherhood.

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