A new school year is filled with exciting and challenging times for students and their families — but along with that come colds and flu season, too, no matter how old the kids may be.

One of the leading health care-sharing ministries in America, Samaritan Ministries International, has partnered with direct primary care physician and Samaritan member Dr. Deborah Chisholm to provide families with tips to stay healthy during an unfortunately germ-filled season of life.

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Chisholm knows why so many health care-sharing members choose direct primary care practices and the personal nature, affordability, price transparency and access to doctors they provide. She’s also acutely aware of the most practical steps families can take to stay healthy as cold and flu season approaches.

Related: Why Christians Are Drawn to Health Care Cost-Sharing Ministries

LifeZette reached out to Dr. Chisholm for smart, savvy advice for parents and kids across the country. She practices medicine in the Chisholm Center for Health in Leroy, Illinois. 

Question: What are the best tips you can offer moms and dads, in general, for illness prevention for their kids, no matter what sort of health program they participate in or use?
Answer: In my opinion, the best illness prevention is a strong well-functioning immune system. In general, one can support the healthy function of the immune system by using the following eight suggestions:

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1.) Avoid an abundance of processed foods and sugary foods. Simple, whole foods are a better fuel for the body to enhance immune function and protect against illness.

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2.) Stay well-hydrated. Sufficient intake of water will allow your body to keep its defenses up since cells are better oxygenated and function well in a state of adequate hydration.

3.) Practice effective hand-washing. This doesn’t require antibacterial products; simply develop a family habit of frequent, effective hand washing several times each day. Effective hand-washing involves lathering soap all over both sides of your hands and even beneath the nails for a total of 20 seconds, and then rinsing well.

4.) If a family member does become ill, keep other family members from sharing personal items such as cups, toys, and hand towels.

5.) Avoid a sedentary lifestyle. Keep active, which promotes lymphatic flow and is an important part of a healthy and strong immune system.

6.) Consider supplemental vitamin C and vitamin D, as directed by your physician. Both of these nutrients can have a positive effect on the immune system.

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7.) If you must touch a public doorknob or handrail, be sure to avoid directly touching your face (mouth, nose, or eyes) until you’ve washed your hands again.

8.) Make time for adequate rest each night. This cannot be overemphasized. Sleep deprivation suppresses the immune system. In general, school-aged children typically need nine to 11 hours of sleep, and parents can set a good example (and also maintain their health) by keeping regular sleep hours for themselves.

Q: Can teachers or nurses at school do more to help — and if so, what?
One thing these professionals can do is promote and demonstrate effective hand-washing. I would love to see each incoming class of students go to the washroom to see a live demonstration of effective hand-washing as detailed above.

“It’s important that if your children come down with a fever, they should be kept out of school.”

Schools can also post friendly hand-washing educational signs as appropriate on school property in classrooms, hallways and restrooms.

Q: What other key tips do you feel families should know, no matter how old the kids are?
A: It’s important that if your children come down with a fever, they should be kept out of school; you can assume your child is infectious if he or she is running a fever.

Also, any child who comes down with a sore throat and fever should definitely be seen by a medical professional to rule out strep throat, since it is a common illness that spreads rapidly through schools.

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Teach kids that if they feel the urgency to sneeze or cough, they should do so into their elbow rather than into their hands.

I would also emphasize the don’t-touch-your-face rule after anyone has touched something in a public area — until they have had a chance to wash their hands again.

Samaritan Ministries members have come together in biblical community to help bear one another’s medical burdens without the use of health insurance. Read more about the program here