Preventing the flu is a joint effort in schools. Students, parents, and staff need to take the necessary precautions to stop the flu from circulating.

Roughly 55 million students and 7 million staff attend school each day in the United States. The flu virus can spread easily when someone who has the flu coughs or sneezes, especially in a setting like school.

Prevention is key to success. But if you or your child or teen still comes down with the flu, there are important steps to take to stay healthy and keep others from getting the virus.

Everyone must do their part to prevent the flu from spreading. These recommendations can help reduce the chances of having a flu outbreak in your school:

Get vaccinated

The best way to prevent the flu is for you and your family to get a flu vaccine. It can take two weeks for the flu vaccine to become effective, so make sure to get the vaccine well before the flu starts to spread in your community.

September or October is usually a good time to get the vaccine. Even if you miss this timeline, you should still get vaccinated.

You can get the vaccine at:

  • your doctor’s office
  • pharmacies
  • walk-in medical clinics
  • city health departments
  • your college or university health center

You’ll need to get the flu vaccine every season. If you still get sick despite having the vaccine, the shot can help shorten the time that you are sick and reduce its symptoms. This can mean fewer missed days at school or work.

The flu vaccine is safe. The most common side effects are mild soreness, tenderness, or swelling where the shot was given.

Wash your hands often

The next best way to prevent the flu is to avoid close contact with other people. Of course, this can be rather difficult at a crowded school.

Wash your hands frequently with soap and water and avoid the urge to touch your face. You can also use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol. Keep one on your backpack with a clip for easy access.

One study found that alcohol-based sanitizers and good respiratory hygiene reduced school absences by 26 percent and laboratory-confirmed influenza A infections by 52 percent.

Teachers should make sure to include time for handwashing in student schedules throughout the day.

Don’t share personal items

Avoid sharing personal items, such as lip balm or makeup, drinks, food and eating utensils, ear buds, musical instruments, towels, and sporting equipment.

Cover coughs and sneezes

The flu virus is most commonly transmitted from person to person when someone with the flu coughs or sneezes into the air. Droplets become airborne and can land on other people or surfaces. The flu virus can then live for up to 48 hours, potentially infecting anyone who comes into contact with it.

Encourage your kids to cough into their sleeve or a tissue and to wash their hands if they’ve sneezed or coughed into their hands.

Disinfect surfaces

Teachers and school staff should carry out routine surface cleaning of desks, countertops, doorknobs, computer keyboards, and faucet handles, along with any other objects that are touched frequently.

Schools should provide adequate supplies, including:

  • cleaning products that are registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • gloves
  • no-touch trash cans
  • disinfectant wipes

Stay healthy

Another key way to prevent the flu and other common viruses is to keep your immune system strong and healthy.

As flu season approaches, students, parents, and school staff should take extra care to make sure they’re getting enough sleep and exercise, avoiding stress, and eating a well-balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

You or your child should stay home from school at the first signs of a flu infection. These signs and symptoms include:

  • fever over 100˚F (38˚C)
  • muscle aches
  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • chills
  • vomiting
  • headache
  • stuffy nose

For many adults and teens, a sudden high fever is the earliest symptom of the infection. Students and staff should stay home until at least 24 hours have passed since they’ve had a fever or signs of a fever (chills or sweating) without using medication.

If you or your child start to feel sick at school, it’s important to go home and rest as soon as possible. In the meantime, sick students and staff should be separated from others.

Avoid touching, coughing, or sneezing near friends and classmates, and make sure to put used tissues in a trash can. Encourage your child or teen to wash their hands frequently.

Teachers and staff should also understand emergency symptoms of the flu and be familiar with which students and staff members are at a higher risk of serious complications. This includes older adults and people with chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems.

High-risk individuals should contact a healthcare provider for an evaluation as soon as they can.

The best remedy for the flu is plenty of rest, sleep, and fluids. Encourage your child or teen to eat small meals even if they don’t have an appetite.

Over-the-counter medications can make you or your teen feel a little better as the body fights off the infection. There are several options available depending on which symptoms are most bothersome:

  • Pain relievers reduce fever, headache, and body aches. Examples include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and acetaminophen (Tylenol).
  • Decongestants open the nasal passages and relieve pressure in your sinuses. One example is pseudoephedrine (Sudafed).
  • Cough suppressants, such as dextromethorphan (Robitussin), ease a dry cough.
  • Expectorants loosen thick mucus and make a wet cough more productive.

Your doctor can also prescribe antiviral medications to reduce your symptoms and the duration of the flu. These drugs work best if they’re taken within 48 hours of when you first started experiencing symptoms.

Flu symptoms tend to get worse before they get better. For most people, flu symptoms will subside after about a week, but fatigue and a cough may linger for another week or so.

If symptoms seem to get better and then get worse again, see a doctor. It’s possible to catch a serious secondary infection like pneumonia or bronchitis.

It can be incredibly disruptive when kids and teachers are out sick from school. The flu can’t always be prevented, but you can greatly reduce the odds of infection by getting a flu shot, washing your hands often, and keeping the classroom clean.

Any student or school staff member who starts having symptoms of the flu should stay home until their fever is gone for at least 24 hours.