Parents: How to Avoid the Back-to-School Plague

By Jason M. Carlton, APR

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 22 million school days are lost annually due to the common cold. With year-round school underway in Utah and other schools about to start, here are a few tips to help your kids avoid the Back to School Plague. 


Infectious Disease Physician Eddie Stenehjem, MD, from Intermountain Medical Center highlights ways parents can help their kids stay healthy during the school year.

“The biggest thing parents can do to prevent illnesses in kids going back to school is to promote good hand hygiene,” said Dr Stenehjem. “Good hand washing is probably one of the most important preventative measures that can be taken.”

The CDC has a simple outline for how people should wash their hands.

WET your hands with clean running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap and apply soap.

LATHER your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather backs of your hands, in between your fingers and under your nails.

SCRUB your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song beginning to end twice.

RINSE your hands well under clean, running water.

DRY your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

Running water and soap isn’t always readily available. Using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is easy and convenient and the small container is perfect for storing in desks, backpacks and lockers. It should be noted that hand sanitizers are not as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy. However, they can quickly eliminate the number of microbes on hands and in some situations. But not all types of germs are eliminated with hand sanitizers alone. Washing your hands properly with soap and water is always your best option.

“The second most important thing is for parents to assure their kids vaccinations are up to date,” said Dr Stenehjem. “Flu season is just around the corner from the start of the school year, and the vaccines for the upcoming flu season are usually available in September and October.”

The CDC recommends anyone older than six months receive an annual flu vaccination.

“We can’t avoid the pathogens in school,” continues Dr Stenehjem. “Teaching kids good cough etiquette and to cover their mouth when they sneeze is important. It also helps to teach them to avoid touching their face, nose or eyes.”

Schools are also full of areas that can be considered "Hot Zones" for germs. While it's common to think of the bathrooms as the biggest source of germ transfer, drinking fountains and computer labs tend to be cleaned less than bathrooms, leaving more germs accessible for transfer from one student to another.

More tips on preventing illnesses in kids at school can be found here