How to Keep Your Family Healthy in the Midst of Back-to-School Germs

As summer winds down and the school bells ring once more, families across the nation gear up for another academic year. However, with the return to school comes the inevitable onslaught of germs – from the common cold to the more concerning viruses like the flu and even coronaviruses. Let’s delve into effective ways to prevent these infections from infiltrating your family and how to manage them if they do.

The Germ Haven: School

Let’s face it: school environments are a breeding ground for germs, especially for the younger ones who haven’t yet mastered hygiene habits. Kids share everything from pencils to snacks without a second thought, and this lax approach to cleanliness often leads to widespread infections. But fret not – the key lies in taking preventive measures while maintaining a balanced perspective on germs.

1. Hygiene is Your Shield

Teaching your children proper hygiene practices is paramount. Emphasize the importance of washing hands regularly, especially before eating and after using the restroom. Studies have shown that handwashing significantly reduces the risk of various illnesses, including diarrhea and respiratory infections. In fact:

  • Handwashing cuts down the occurrence of diarrhea by 23-40%.[1][2][3]
  • Among people with weakened immune systems, the likelihood of diarrheal illness drops by 58%.[4]
  • It reduces respiratory illnesses (such as colds) by 16-21%.[5]
  • Schoolchildren experience 29-57% less absenteeism due to gastrointestinal illnesses.[6]

2. Sharing Isn’t Always Caring

While sharing is a wonderful value to instill in your kids, there are exceptions when it comes to personal items. Teach them not to share water bottles, cups, or eating utensils, as this can lead to the exchange of harmful bacteria and viruses. A study conducted in 2018 found that bacterial levels on cups and in water increased dramatically after just three sips. The average number of bacteria on sipped cups was significantly higher than on non-sipped ones.[7] Remember, the fewer bacteria encountered, the lower the risk of infection.

3. Banishing the “Double-Dip”

Beyond sharing, another critical lesson involves the dreaded “double-dip.” Encourage your kids to avoid re-dipping chips after taking a bite, especially if they’re dipping in communal sauces like salsa. Research has shown that the bacterial populations skyrocket after a double-dip, particularly with salsa, compared to chocolate or cheese dips.[8] While it’s fun to celebrate with a birthday cake, studies have shown that blowing out candles can introduce some bacteria to the cake’s surface.[9] Fortunately, this doesn’t pose a major threat unless someone is already sick.

Promoting a Healthy Perspective

In the face of the germ-riddled school environment, remember that germs are a natural part of life. Shielding your family entirely from them is neither practical nor healthy. Rather, equip your children with proper hygiene practices and a balanced understanding of germs’ roles. Your body is designed to combat germs, and by making wise choices, you can bolster its defenses.

So, as you send your kids off to school, arm them with soap, water, and a strong sense of hygiene etiquette. By promoting these habits, you’re setting the foundation for a healthier school year, free from unnecessary infections. Remember, it’s not about fear, but about empowering your family with knowledge and resilience.

[1] Ejemot RI, Ehiri JE, Meremikwu MM, Critchley JA. Hand washing for preventing diarrhoea. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008;1:CD004265.

[2] Aiello AE, Coulborn RM, Perez V, Larson EL. Effect of hand hygiene on infectious disease risk in the community setting: a meta-analysis. Am J Public Health. 2008;98(8):1372-81.

[3] Freeman MC, Stocks ME, Cumming O, Jeandron A, Higgins JPT, Wolf J et al. Hygiene and health: Systematic review of handwashing practices worldwide and update of health effects. Trop Med Int Heal 2014; 19: 906–916.

[4] Huang DB, Zhou J. Effect of intensive handwashing in the prevention of diarrhoeal illness among patients with AIDS: a randomized controlled study. J Med Microbiol. 2007;56(5):659-63.

[5] Rabie T and Curtis V. Handwashing and risk of respiratory infections: a quantitative systematic review. Trop Med Int Health. 2006 Mar;11(3):258-67.

[6] ang Z, Lapinski M, Quilliam E, Jaykus LA, Fraser A. The effect of hand-hygiene interventions on infectious disease-associated absenteeism in elementary schools: A systematic literature review. Am J Infect Control 2017; 45: 682–689.

[7] Paul Dawson,, Bacterial Transfer to Cups and Water by Drinking. Food, Nutrition and Packaging Sciences Department, Clemson University, Clemson, SC, USA. Food and Nutrition Sciences > Vol.9 No.12, December 2018

[8]   Accessed 8-11-23.

[9]   Accessed 8-11-23.