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Keeping the cold away during the school year

Monday - 8/26/2013, 4:49am  ET

Handwashing.jpg
It is essential for parents to encourage their kids to wash their hands thoroughly at school, before meals and before leaving the bathroom. (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON - The start of school means the start of cold and cough season for a lot of kids.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says colds are the main reason why children miss school. In fact, 22 million school days are lost each year because of the common cold, according to the CDC.

Dr. Toni Thompson-Chittams, medical director of TLC Pediactrics in Bowie, Md., says she starts to see an uptick in sick kids shortly after the new school year begins.

She says it is essential for parents to encourage their kids to wash their hands thoroughly at school, before meals and before leaving the bathroom.

Hand sanitizer works in a pinch, and Thompson-Chittams says parents might even want to put together an informal "kit" of tissues, hand sanitizer and wipes for their children to keep in their school desks.

Also, parents should urge their kids to remember to always sneeze or cough into a tissue. And if they are sniffly and coughing away, Thompson-Chittams suggests keeping them home for 24 hours to monitor their symptoms.

Another way to keep children of all ages healthy is to urge them not to share lunches or drinks with others, since that is a good way to pass germs. Lunchtime swaps can also pose a threat to kids with severe food allergies.

"I often think about kids who have swapped food in the cafeteria and, in fact, they may have a chronic peanut allergy and the other children don't know it," Thompson-Chittams says.

Informing teachers and other school personnel of allergies and diabetes is critical prior to the start of the year.

"That's part of preparing your children for school, and keeping them healthy, and keeping them safe," Thompson-Chittams says.

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