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Heading back to school for the new term is one of the most exciting times of year for students. Seeing friends after weeks apart and getting ready to learn new things is all part of settling into the new term. Unfortunately, though, as children gather again, this is also a time when there is a surge in the transmission of bugs and viruses.

“Schools bring together large numbers of children, which increases the likelihood of close contact and interactions. Viruses and bacteria can spread easily in crowded environments through respiratory droplets, touching contaminated surfaces, and direct contact,” says Dr Ana Maria, Specialist Paediatrics, Aster Clinic, Arabian Ranches.

Dr Ana Maria

To reduce the chances of getting sick this term, parents should think ahead. Whilst holidays may involve late nights, unhealthy eating habits and being out of a normal routine, it is important to get an early bedtime and a nutritious diet before heading back to school.

Dr Shashi Kant Gupta

Dr Shashi Kant Gupta, Specialist Paediatrics, Medeor Hospital, Abu Dhabi, says, “As school reopens, children must have a good sleep, study, and play routine to promote overall growth, enhanced immunity, improved memory and attention, and emotional well-being. A mix of adequate sleep and a balanced diet improves children’s physical health and they are more energetic and eager to learn. Less or an irregular sleep pattern in children is associated with poor school performance, behaviour issues, and anxiety. A good night’s sleep is essential for the overall development of a growing child.”

As a parent, it is easy to be preoccupied with tasks such as getting that new uniform and school bag before the new term, but one should also make time for a check-up at the clinic.

“Being a parent, you want your kids to be healthy and free of illness throughout the school term to prevent absence from their studies because of ailments. However, many parents are so busy preparing their children for the new term that they forget to prioritise the health of their children,” says Dr Ahmar Shamim, Specialist Paediatrics, Aster Hospital, Sharjah.

Dr Ahmar Shamim

“The best time to book an appointment for your children is before going back to school. The physician can help the kids stay healthy by advising healthy eating habits and updating their vaccines, which prevents serious diseases.”

It is critical to get children into tip-top shape for the new term as, according to Dr Shamim, one of the reasons that children frequently get sick is that their immune systems are weaker than that of adults. Some of the most common ailments for children heading back to school include colds, influenza, gastroenteritis, ear infections, head lice and pink eye, which is commonly known as conjunctivitis.

Although as parents we can’t control what our children do in school, keeping vaccinations up to date and teaching them basic hygiene, will make all the difference.

“Parents can safeguard their children from common back-to-school illnesses through up-to-date vaccinations and by implementing basic practices of proper hand hygiene,” says Dr Abed Homsi, Specialist Paediatrician, Burjeel Day Surgery Center, Al Reem Island.

Dr Abed Homsi

“This includes instructing kids not to share personal items or food with others and educating them about curbing the spread of infections by avoiding close contact with sick classmates. The most effective means of preventing infection transmission revolves around maintaining good hand hygiene. This entails frequent and thorough handwashing with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds. It is also important to cover the mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, followed by proper disposal of the tissue in a trash bin. If a tissue is unavailable, coughing or sneezing into the elbow is recommended instead of the hands.”

Pack a healthy lunchbox

An additional way to keep children healthy is by packing a nutritious lunchbox to boost their immune systems.

“Dietary choices have a big impact on various aspects of our health. Diets rich in dietary fibre play a pivotal role in nurturing and sustaining beneficial microorganisms within the gut. These microbes have been proven to invigorate the activity of immune cells, thereby contributing to a robust immune system,” says Dr Homsi.

“A well-rounded dietary approach, comprising generous portions of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, nuts, seeds, moderate amounts of unsaturated fats, meats, dairy, and fatty fish, offers a wealth of essential nutrients. These nutrients, including vitamin A, vitamin C, zinc, vitamin D, B6, B12, copper, folate, iron, and selenium, are integral to the optimal functioning of the immune system.”

With a good night’s sleep, a nutritious diet and a full vaccine record, you can ensure that your child is in the best shape possible to head back to school. However, whilst many children will be looking forward to getting back to the classroom, there will be others who might be feeling anxious. If your child is struggling with anxiety, talk to them and help with whatever needs to be addressed.

Dr Shamim from Aster Hospital, Sharjah, says, “Both children and their parents experience stress during the back-to-school season. Some children move on to the next grade, while others have to start over at a new school. Stress can cause a sleeping disorder and stressed insusceptible framework. Urge youngsters to talk about any issues he or she is confronting. Don’t force them to do too many chores; instead, let them complete their schoolwork.”

The back-to-school period is also an important time to reassure your child that change can be unsettling and sometimes it takes a while to adjust.

Dr Sathya Seelan Sinnathambi

Dr Sathya Seelan Sinnathambi, Specialist Paediatrics, Aster Clinic, Umm Al Quwain, concludes, “Psychologically, for any new or unsettling situation like starting school for the first time or entering a new grade or school, kids need time to adjust. Remind them that everyone feels a little nervous about the first day of school and that the routine will become familiar in no time.” ■

Stay ahead of the game by getting vaccinated before the flu season

nsuring your child has all the required vaccines for their age group is imperative before heading back to school. However, whilst many of us are familiar with vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps and tetanus, the flu vaccine is also one to consider.

“Make sure you vaccinate your child for all common communicable infections, like flu and chickenpox and ensure that you have adhered to the national immunisation schedule,” advises Dr Sathya Seelan, Specialist Paediatrics, Aster Clinic, Umm Al Quwain.

“The most common infection that children encounter after entering school is the flu, which is caused by the influenza virus. This virus easily spreads from one child to another through coughing and sneezing into the air. Symptoms of flu include fever, body aches, chills, sore throat, fatigue, and the loss of appetite. You can reduce the risk of getting the flu by ensuring you and your family members get a flu vaccine each year. Although there are many strains of influenza, getting a flu shot doesn’t guarantee you won’t get the flu, but it can lower your risk for some common strains. Additionally, vaccination can help reduce the duration and severity of flu symptoms.”

Dr Siddharth Arora, Specialist Paediatrician, Medcare Women & Children Hospital, also highlights the importance of a flu vaccine.

Dr Siddharth Arora

“While parents are busy with back-to-school preparation, keeping kids healthy through vaccines should be a top priority,” says Dr Arora.

“Lots of kids miss school days every year because of the flu. Influenza is the leading cause of bad flu. And it’s not just a simple cold; it can get worse, making kids really sick and even needing to be admitted to the hospital or ICU,” warns Dr Arora.

“But, the good news is getting a flu shot can stop all that. Thankfully, the new stock of influenza vaccine is ready for the season and parents must ensure that kids get the shot to stay healthy, before gearing up for the classes. Staying up to date on vaccines helps protect kids from other sicknesses too. Apart from the flu vaccine, there are other bad bugs around, and vaccines can help fight them off. Talk to a doctor about the shots your child needs – it’s like an armour to keep them safe from germs at school,” he explains.