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Special Report

August 6, 2012

Basic precautions can prevent germ-fest when school begins

New shoes, new friends, new germs. It's a rite of passage from summer to fall that your kids have to fight every year. The back-to-school sniffles affect seemingly every child, as little mouths, hands and noses provide excellent breeding grounds and points of exchange. Since the children can't be trusted to look after their own hygiene, it's up to you, parents, to do it for them.

The consensus on how to avoid germs is to follow a few basic precautions. Regular hand washing with soap and water - especially around meals and after visiting the restroom - will kill bugs as effectively as anything. Special, more expensive antibacterial soaps are not necessary, according to Dr. Lisa Morici, an assistant professor at Tulane University's Department of Microbiology and Immunology, New Orleans. She recommends a sanitizing hand lotion if sinks aren't available; many schools now keep bottles of lotion standard in classrooms. Along with keeping hands washed, Dr. Morici emphasizes staying up-to-date on your child's vaccinations.

More tips to avoid the germs:

Older kids who participate in physical education or extracurricular sports at school should always shower after such activities and should not share practice jerseys or other equipment.

For younger children, take advantage of the sick season by making it a learning experience. "It's a great time to teach them the practices of good hygiene," Dr. Ohl says.

Make sure your kids aren't sharing food or writing utensils, two items that tend to find their way into multiple mouths and sets of hands.

Body temperature is a convenient metric to determine if your child is ill, but also watch out for changes in personality such as fatigue or reticence. If your child normally bounces off the walls and suddenly only wants to lounge on the couch, it may be a sign something is amiss.

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