How to keep kids healthy and lower risks for illness
September 15, 2014
As your children head back to school, there’s more to think about than math tests, spelling bees and homework.
Protecting your family from the many common illnesses that make the rounds each year should also be a
consideration. Dr. Shruti Gohil, a UC Irvine Health infectious disease specialist, answers questions about how
to keep your kids healthy during the school year.
Q: Why is fall the riskiest time of year
for kids to get sick?
A: It’s the season when some common viruses
associated with the cold and flu season begin to increase
in prevalence. It’s also when kids return to school and are
exposed to each other in greater numbers. Because the
immune systems of children are less experienced than
those of adults in fending off infectious illnesses, kids are
at especially high risk for getting common illnesses such
as stomach bugs, sore throats, ear infections, pink eye,
flu, colds and more.
Q: What’s the best way to protect children
from these “bugs”?
A: One of the most effective ways is frequent hand
washing. Because people are often infected before they
show any symptoms, your children should wash their
hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds — the
length of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” — after
contact with anyone. A hand sanitizer also works.
Q: What other hygiene practices
A: Children should also soap up before eating and after
using the toilet, blowing their nose, playing outside or
touching pets. It’s also essential that they don’t share
food, eating utensils, cups or other personal items with
others — no matter how tempting. Your kids can also
avoid getting many common illnesses by not touching
their eyes, nose or mouth — the routes many germs take
to enter the body. And when your children are sick, they
should sneeze and cough into their elbow or a tissue to
prevent the spread of germs.
Q: What should parents know
A: Staying up to date with immunizations is a critical
part of keeping your child healthy. All vaccines
recommended by your child’s pediatrician have been
shown to be safe and highly effective. This includes
measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis
(DTaP), meningitis, human papilloma virus
(HPV) and the basic flu shot. Furthermore, numerous
large-scale studies in multiple countries, including one
published by the National Institutes of Health, have
found zero connection between vaccines and autism.
It’s important to remember that before effective vaccines
became available, thousands of people died every year
from infectious illnesses like measles.
Q: Do you have any other advice
A: Yes, healthy habits can boost your child’s immune
system and help ward off common illnesses. It’s
important that your children have a well-balanced diet,
take vitamins and minerals, get plenty of sleep, exercise
regularly and stay hydrated with lots of non-sugar fluids
such as water or milk. If you incorporate these habits
into your family’s life, you’re taking important steps to
limit the number and severity of illnesses your children
To learn more about UC Irvine Health pediatric
specialties, visit ucirvinehealth.org/pediatrics.