Sniffles, sneezes, and gastrointestinal bugs, oh my! It must be back to school time. Many parents assume that colds, flu, and other common illnesses are simply part of the curriculum when they send their children off to school or daycare. That’s not surprising since kids can “catch” 5 to 10 colds per year, especially during the fall and winter months. (1)

While sharing is a quality we often foster in our children, sharing the germs that make a classroom or daycare center resemble a petri dish can increase the likelihood of your child getting sick. And often, your little one will bring these same germs home to infect the whole family!

But are these common ailments inevitable when kids go back to classes? With proper prevention, you may be able to reduce their risk of those back to school germs.

mom and sick son on the couch

Cooler weather and classrooms filled with germs can increase your child’s risk of getting sick.

Common childhood illnesses

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, the following are among the most common viral or bacterial illnesses experienced by school-aged children: (2)

  • Colds
  • Influenza (flu)
  • Strep throat
  • Ear infection
  • Gastroenteritis (stomach flu)

Did you know?
The common cold can be caused by one of 200 different viruses. Most, however, are caused by a member of the rhinovirus family. (3)

Back to school checklist to avoid sickness

Helping families maintain their defenses as kids head back to school often requires a few easy-to-implement strategies. Here are three of the healthiest habits, backed by science:

Wash your hands frequently

Lathering up is one of the simplest ways to prevent sharing pathogens. Most upper respiratory viruses are spread by direct contact, and something as simple as sneezing into your hand and then touching a doorknob, desk, or phone could spread the bug. (4) What’s the best way to wash up? Just lathering up with good old-fashioned soap and water will do the trick.

little boy and girl washing their hands

Scrubbing for a full 30 seconds—about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice—can help reduce the spread of back to school germs.

Drink water

Cells, including immune cells, need water to function properly. But one study that appeared in the FASEB Journal found that staying hydrated may also enable the body to better fight the viruses in another way—by improving gut microbiota. (5) Water is the best way to stay healthy and hydrated.

Get enough sleep

Not getting enough sleep can suppress the immune system and increase the odds of catching a cold or the flu. People who are sleep deprived develop fewer antibodies and are more prone to chronic inflammation. (6) The amount of sleep you need depends on your age. For example, the National Sleep Foundation notes that a preschooler needs 10 to 13 hours of sleep per night while a school-age child only needs 9 to 11. Adults, on the other hand, should strive for 7 to 9 hours every night. (7)

Did you know? Kids who get enough sleep aren’t just healthier. According to research in the journal PLoS One, they are more motivated, tend to pay more attention in class and perform better academically. (8)

5 supplements to keep families healthy

Prevention can go a long way toward keeping kids and parents healthy during the back to school season. Supplementing with one or more of the following herbs and nutrients can fortify immunity. Bonus? If a child (or parent) does come down with a bug, they can also ease symptoms and often shorten the duration of the illness.


Among this herb’s active compounds, andrographolide is a plant chemical with cold-busting anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and immune-boosting properties. Studies show that Andrographis is an effective supplement for reducing the symptoms of uncomplicated upper respiratory infections. (9)

Better yet, research in the journal Phytomedicine found that Andrographis cuts the risk of coming down with a winter cold by 33 percent among a group of students. (10)


This well-known botanical has the ability to turn on the body’s innate and adaptive immune response. Echinacea can also stimulate the production of antibodies that modulate the immune system’s response to bacteria, viruses, fungi, and allergens. (11)

If you are under the weather, echinacea enhances your non-specific immune response and boosts the number of immune cells—especially white blood cells, monocytes, neutrophils, and natural killer cells—to help speed your recovery. (12)(13) But the key to getting these benefits is to start taking the herb at the very first sign of an illness.

Elderberry syrup in a bottle with elderberries next to the bottle on table

Supplementing with herbs and nutrients such as elderberry and echinacea can fortify immunity.


Black elderberry has been used for centuries to treat flu symptoms, as well as for the common cold. Research shows that elderberries possess potent immune-modulating, anti-viral, and antioxidant properties, making elderberry extract a go-to supplement to prevent and treat a wide range of influenza viruses.

Elderberry extract has also been shown to have antimicrobial benefits against both the gram-positive bacteria that causes strep and the gram-negative bacteria responsible for ear infections, sinusitis, and pneumonia. (14) More recently, a randomized double-blind trial of airline passengers reported that those taking elderberry had fewer colds—and among those who did become sick, the elderberry group had shorter, less severe colds than those taking a placebo. (15)


Since about 70 percent of the body’s total number of immune cells reside in the gut, taking probiotics can help protect your family against cold and flu viruses. (16) One clinical trial found that taking a probiotic containing Bifidobacterium bifidum reduced the frequency of colds among a group of college students. (17)

Another study involving preschoolers found that giving them a daily multi-strain probiotic reduced the incidence of colds and flu by as much as 31.8 percent and reduced the duration of the illness if they did get sick. (18)


Zinc plays a key role in immunity and the body’s ability to combat infections. Studies involving school-going children have found that those taking a proactive dose of zinc has less chance of coming down with a cold. (19) This important mineral can also shorten the duration of a cold if taken at the first sniffle. (20) Pairing it with vitamin C might also enhance zinc’s immune-boosting properties, especially in children. (21)

The bottom line

While these supplements work in different ways to enhance immunity, they all share the benefit of being safe and effective. Taking steps now to protect against these common back to school illnesses can help keep your entire family stay healthy all season long.

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