Schools are places of learning and discovery.

But let’s be realistic — they’re also germ factories. When you have a bunch of little kids who might not yet have learned how to reduce cold and flu transmission, you are at high risk of catching whatever is happening around the classroom.

Even teachers of older students are at risk because older students can be just as efficient in spreading viruses around. As the school year gets underway, you need to protect your health.

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1. Eat and sleep well

Your basic state of health is among the most important factors for keeping yourself illness-free. Ensure you eat a balanced diet and do not go nuts with school-meeting treats and holiday fare. Lots of vegetables and moderate protein appropriate for your body are essential. Get at least 25 grams of fiber each day, and try to exercise as well.

2. Be sure to get the flu shot early (and try to get the quadrivalent version)

The flu shot has come a long way and offers protection on several levels. Not only does the shot reduce your chances of getting the flu by a substantial amount, but if you do end up with the flu anyway — either because you caught a strain that wasn’t included in the shot or because you happened to be in the small percentage that didn’t get complete protection from the vaccine — the illness you experience will be much less severe. When you get your flu shot, try to get the quadrivalent version, which includes a vaccine for four flu strains (the regular shot contains a vaccine for three strains).

3. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

Keep drinking water and unsweetened tea throughout the day. Staying hydrated means your body’s tissues and membranes aren’t drying out; if they dry out, they can crack (e.g., chapped lips) and make it easier for viruses to enter your body. Plus, when you’re dehydrated, you feel worse even if you’re not sick.

4. Get your vitamins (in different ways)

If you want to, you can take a multivitamin, but get one with reasonable levels of vitamins. You don’t want to risk an overdose of fat-soluble vitamins (those don’t leave your body easily). Get some sunlight, so your body continues to manufacture vitamin D, and try drinking green tea with lemon, rose hip tea, and other vitamin C-heavy drinks.

5. Watch your stress levels

Emotional and mental stress can create problems for your immune system, making it harder to fight off viruses when exposed.

So what can you do?

  • Practice simple meditation
  • Take daily walks
  • Play with a cat or dog as animals can help reduce human stress
  • If the stress is due to something severe, such as a family matter that won’t go away, seek counseling to help yourself cope with the situation.

6. Wash your hands and train yourself not to touch your face

Finally, wash your hands with soap and warm to hot water frequently. Germs are commonly spread via hand contact. Use hand-sanitizing gel if you can’t get to a sink, and train yourself not to touch your face absent-mindedly. You want to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water first to ensure you’re not passing germs to your eyes, nose, or mouth.

Speak with the other teachers and administrators in your school and see if you can trade tips on what works best. Everyone is different, and you may find a few new strategies that keep you healthy throughout the school year.