How to keep kids healthy and lower risks for illness

September 15, 2014
UC Irvine Health infectious disease expert Dr. Shrutii Gohil

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 are important?

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 about vaccinations?

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 for parents?

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 experience.

To learn more about UC Irvine Health pediatric specialties, visit

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