Lots of sleep and a healthy diet strengthen those young, vulnerable immune systems.
"It is imperative that parents understand the importance of vaccination," Dr. Morici says. "The recent multi-state outbreak of measles is an example of how complacency or fear of vaccination can lead to the emergence and spread of serious childhood diseases."
Dr. Christopher Ohl, an associate professor of medicine at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C., who specializes in infectious diseases, also emphasizes the importance of vaccinations, especially in light of the swine flu pandemic. More than half of swine flu cases, he says, have been pediatric.
"The kids really are the Petri plates we send to school and day care and they bring them back to us," he says. In other words, keeping your kids healthy may play a major role in keeping you healthy, since you will be exposed to any microbial friends your children make at school.
When symptoms of a contagious disease develop, don't be afraid to hold your child out of school. You'll be doing everyone else a favor. Then, Dr. Morici says, notify your student's teacher so he or she can monitor any similar symptoms that might appear in other students.
"This can help prevent further transmission and potentially prevent an outbreak," she says.
Dr. Ohl endorses a two-step decision-making process when your kids get sick. First, decide if they need to stay home from school. Any fever, he says, is enough to keep them home. Next, use your best judgment to determine if a visit to the doctor is necessary.
"If a child seems more severely ill than normal, particularly after getting [medicine]...then that would be the time to take them to see the pediatrician or go to the emergency room," he says. Dr. Ohl recommends allowing your children 24 hours of rest after a fever breaks before sending them back to school.