Whether your child is going off to college for the first time or entering kindergarten, schools seem to be incubators for illness. Before the school year starts, and even after it does, here are a few things you should know about keeping your child safe and healthy.

Before school starts

College students

• Students planning to live on campus probably will need up-to-date immunizations, including the meningococcal (meningitis) vaccine. Check with a primary care doctor and the school to determine which vaccines are needed.

• Students who smoke or have a history of asthma, diabetes, liver disease or immune suppression also should consider a pneumococcal (pneumonia) vaccine.

• Physicians may recommend the HPV vaccine for females and males up to age 26.

• The flu vaccine is recommended for children and adults, especially college students living in dorms. It typically becomes available in September or October.

For students in kindergarten to 12th grade

• Before entering school, many jurisdictions require proof of a preventive health care examination, an eye examination and a dental screening.

• Check with your primary care doctor for required vaccines. Children must show proof of vaccinations or file a legal exemption with the school. A chart for different age groups may be found at the Minnesota Department of Health, www.health.state.mn.us. Click on "Immunizations."

• Students planning to participate in sports should schedule a sports physical.

• An annual physical can help identify and track potential health concerns.

Once school starts

• Encourage children of all ages to wash their hands, especially after using the bathroom. Provide hand sanitizer for when kids can't access soap and water.

• Tell your child not to share cups and utensils and to clean his or her hands after using communal tools, such as scissors.

• Not contributing to the germy environment is important, so encourage others to cover their cough.

• If your child has a temperature above 100 degrees, keep him or her home. This will not only help the child recover more quickly but also keep him or her from getting other kids sick, which will cycle back to you. A child needs to be fever-free for 24 hours without medication before returning to school.

• Help your student get enough sleep, eat a proper diet and get vitamin supplements as needed. This will help maintain overall health.

At home

• If possible keep the sick person in your house away from others while contagious, which can be a total of five to seven days before and after there are symptoms.

• Just like at school, the sick person should cover his or her mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing with a tissue. Throw the tissue in the trash.

• Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs.

Sources: KentuckyOne Health, Lexington Fayette-County Health Department, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.