Did you know that each year, nearly 60 million school days are lost each year due to colds or the flu virus? That’s according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In schools, infections can spread from one sick child to another due to close contact and the sharing of supplies and equipment.

Many parents worry about their child getting sick from viruses at school. Kids can also get sick by being in contact with other children on the playground, while participating in a team sport, during after-school activities and hanging out with their friends. As we start a new school year, it’s important for parents, teachers and family members to take steps to prevent kids from getting sick at school or spreading infections at home.

Here are some tips for parents on how to ward off infections and viruses that are common among school-age children:

  1. Promote hand washing often and regularly
    Washing one’s hands can protect children from getting infected by — and spreading — bacteria and viruses. Make sure your child washes their hands before every meal, after using the bathroom and following outdoor games or classroom activities in which they get their hands dirty. Reinforce hand washing on a daily basis so that children make it a habit.
  1. Teach your kid proper hygiene when coughing, sneezing and nose-blowing
    Respiratory infections can spread from one child to another via airborne droplets from coughs and sneezes. Model for your children how to cough or sneeze into a tissue or their elbow — not their hands. Nose-blowing can also spread germs, so teach your kid how to properly blow their nose into a tissue and throw it away immediately.
  1. Disinfect surfaces that children touch or use frequently
    At home, keep counter tops, the kitchen table and your child’s desk clean and disinfected. At school, talk to your child’s teacher about how often classroom materials are disinfected and how often children must wipe down their desks. In the classroom, many kids share materials and participate in hands-on learning, so it’s important that your child’s school has established a regular cleaning schedule to prevent infections from spreading.
  1. Have your kid stay home if they are sick
    If your child has a fever, feels nauseated, is vomiting or has diarrhea, they should stay home from school. If your child has a severe cold or the flu, it’s better to keep them at home until they make a full recovery. You don’t want your sick kid spreading viruses or infections to other children at school, or sending them to school to only have them get worse as the day goes on. If you’ve ever worked in an office, you’ve probably been annoyed at the person who comes into work sick and infects the whole office, wishing they just would have stayed home — same goes for children at school.
  1. Get a flu shot before the start of flu season
    The CDC recommends that children and teenagers older than 6 months of age get an annual flu shot to prevent the influenza virus. In the U.S., the prevalence of flu viruses are most common in the fall and winter, usually beginning in October and running through February. It is recommended that children get a flu shot prior to the start of the flu season, but they can get a flu shot during any time of year.