How does it happen? Your family has enjoyed a happy, healthy six week summer holiday, but within just days of returning to school your child comes down with a cold, or develops an itchy skin condition, or catches nits. Why, when they need to be settling into a new routine and you need to be back at work, do they suddenly get ill?

Like it or not, children gathering in schools is one of the main ways germs circulate in communities. Their immune systems are less mature, they tend to be in close contact and they have ‘germy’ habits like sticking fingers or pencils into their mouths, so it is inevitable that they are going to come home with something nasty at some point.

That said, most illnesses can be avoided if a few good practices are followed. Top of the list is to make sure that your child’s immunisations are all up to date and that all family members have had a seasonal flu vaccination, where appropriate. Prevention is definitely the best medicine.

Next, make sure they wash their hands enough – and properly! The most common way to catch illness is through the mouth, eyes or nose after the hands have been in contact with infected surfaces. A thorough wash with soap and warm water to the back of the hands, in between the fingers and around the nails for around 20 seconds (as long as it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice!) before eating or drinking, after a visit to the toilet, blowing their nose or touching animals and waste should be the minimum.

Teach your child ‘germ etiquette’. This means staying away from other children who may be sneezing or coughing, covering their own coughs and sneezes by using tissues that should be thrown away immediately and avoiding head to head contact with others. If your child is older, warn them about sharing items such as lipstick, lip balm, make-up, razors, creams, lotions and other personal items such as towels and sports kit.

There are some germ hotspots in schools, and cafeteria trays are one of them! One survey found that there were more bacteria per square inch on a cafeteria tray than there were on a toilet seat, probably because the trays don’t get cleaned as often. If your child drops food on a tray, they should throw it away!

Finally, your child can build up their immunity by getting enough sleep and exercise, eating a well balanced diet that includes lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and by drinking plenty of water. Take these preventative measures and hopefully going back to school will be a happy, healthy time for everybody!