It’s back-to-school time and parents are frantically outfitting their kids with school supplies galore. You’re talking everything from pens, paper and binders to calculators and laptops. Then there are the must-have clothes to make just the right impression. But there is a price to pay for the silence descending upon the household these days.

However, that silence may be broken with the sounds of hacking, coughing and sniffling complete with the plaintive cries of “Mom, more juice, more Kleenex, my head hurts….” All parents know that colds and flus quickly spread through the school system to the home. With the H1N1 or swine flu scare we know the increasing dangers of large groups of people getting together and students are particularly at risk. Influenza or the flu is a respiratory illness that affects millions each year but we can all do something to minimize the risk to our families and friends.

Having been a substitute teacher in Mistissini I can confidently say the kids are all over each other from school work to playtime to recess. They tend to do the rough-and-tumble games, high fives and whatnot of everyday school life. It spans all ages and grades and while you can’t do anything about that and shouldn’t, there are ways to reduce the chances of getting a cold or the flu in school.

Remind your elementary-school children, and indeed all of your school-age youngsters, of the importance of washing their hands and using hand sanitizers.

In fact, give them a personal hand sanitizer – a small one that fits in their pockets or bags. Tell them to keep it on them all the time and use it frequently. It will actually save you time and money, and you’ll have less health worries about your loved ones.

Health Canada says the cold and flu season usually runs from November to April. It affects 10-25% of Canadians. You can get it from someone who coughs which is why people are being taught to cough into their sleeve. The reason for this is that you cannot pass on germs when shaking hands or touching surfaces. However if you cough into your hands, the chances dramatically increase when a contaminated surface is touched.

Don’t forget your flu shots as the antibodies created will help fight off flu infections. Health Canada says that while most people recover within 10 days some are considered at higher risk. They include people over 65, pregnant women, certain medical conditions and, of course, the young.

The last is why you should educate and protect your school-age children. Another important thing to remember is that when children have the flu or chicken pox do not give them aspirin (salicylates) or they could possibly develop Reye’s syndrome. This disease affects the central nervous system and the liver. It can even be fatal to a child. Consult your doctor before using aspirin when your child or children have the flu.

Another flu consideration is that it can lead to other more serious health complications, such as pneumonia. Never treat the flu as just something to be suffered each year.

In Eeyou Istchee we are lucky as it is relatively easy to get flu shots. Immunizing your children, family and Elders is important for all of us. Flu shots are usually available in November so put it on your to-do list. Though some people in the past have warned against the shots, the flu vaccine cannot cause you to get the flu. Only one person in a million has any real serious side effects. A possible side effect is Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). It is an autoimmune disease that attacks the nervous system. Most patients recover fully.

Remember that students, especially teens, occasionally fake being sick especially during test times but pay close attention to their actual symptoms. By making a student who is really sick go to school is what makes getting colds and the flu such a vicious circle. It ensures the germs keep getting passed around and this in turn makes them harder to fight as they get resistant to regular medicines.

To help control the spread of colds, the flu, N1H1 or other diseases make sure everyone washes their hands frequently, cough and sneeze into your arm or sleeve, keep common areas and shared items clean and disinfected, stay home if you are sick and go to your local clinic if you experience severe flu-like symptoms or they last longer than 10 days.

When your children or any family member gets sick give them plenty of fluids like juices, water, soups and make sure they get lots of rest. If you get to a clinic and take medicine within 48 hours it will usually reduce the length people are laid up by one or two days.

While good luck is something we all hope for, by following the advice given here the school year should be a much healthier and safer one.