While public schools are a great place for kids to learn and grow, they’re also an environment where youngsters can pick up germs and viruses that make them sick.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40 percent of children, ages 5-17, miss three or more days of school annually due to illness or injury. More than 22 million school days were lost due to the common cold. The good news is there are things parents can do to decrease their child’s risk of contracting a contagious illness in classrooms.

First, support a child’s immune system with good nutrition. A balanced diet with five servings of fruits and vegetables daily along with healthy, protein-rich snacks can help keep a child’s immune system strong.

Teach kids good habits while at school. Discourage sharing cups and utensils. And although this may be difficult with younger children, teach them to avoid touching their face and eyes throughout the day.

Make sure every child gets a good night’s sleep. Establish routine bedtimes and calmed-down activities each night before tucking them in. A good night’s sleep not only will help with overall health, but also improve school performance and behavior.

Encourage good hand-washing when using the bathroom, before eating and after blowing noses. Parents can set the example by doing the same and emphasizing to youngsters how important it is to preventing someone from getting sick.

Get your child a flu shot. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children six months of age and older get immunized as soon as the vaccine is available. Talk to your provider about chronic conditions that may prohibit your child from receiving the flu vaccine.

Make sure your family’s shots are up to date as well. Vaccine preventable diseases like measles are being detected more often among non-immunized and under-immunized children and adults.

A child with mild cold symptoms to include cough and runny nose is typically fine to attend school. However, parents can help protect other children by teaching their kids to cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing and sneezing. The tissue should be thrown away immediately after use and the child should wash his or her hands or use sanitizer if available. If no tissues are available, they can cough or sneeze into their arm.

If a child does develop an illness, parents should be considerate of other children and keep the youngster home. This can be hard for busy working parents, but the best way to look at it is keeping other kids healthy and possibly shortening the length of their own child’s illness with rest and comforting parental care.

Consider keeping a child home if he or she can’t comfortably participate in school, are having significant pain or did not sleep well the night before due to illness symptoms. For any fever of 100.4 F or higher, a child should remain home until fever-free for 24 hours. Be sure to keep a working thermometer in your home medicine cabinet.

Vomiting and diarrhea could be a sign of infection. School-aged children who experienced two or more vomiting or diarrheal episodes in 24 hours should be kept home.

If you suspect your child has pinkeye, lice, scabies, chicken pox or other rash caused by an infection, it’s best to have the child evaluated and treated before sending them to school.

The staff at Wilkerson Pediatric Clinic wants Fort Lee children to be healthy and have a successful school year. Appointments for Kenner beneficiaries can be made by calling 1-866-533-5242. After hours and on weekends, call the Nurse Advice Line at 1-800-TRICARE and choose option 1 for medical assistance.