Children starting school aren't just going to make new friends, they will also encounter new germs and a variety of ailments.

So parents need to get ready to repel a barrage of yucky attackers, from worms to head lice, as well as coping with the inevitable sniffles and sore throats, and the 'bug' that whips round the class defying the speed of light.

"Most parents can expect their young child may be a little unsettled in the first few days of school, because they're nervous and stressed," says Dr Wendy Denning. "Some may complain of a headache, a tummy ache, lack of appetite and have trouble sleeping. Those things generally are just a symptom of first week nerves and pass as the routine becomes familiar and they gain confidence."

But she believes parents should also be aware of the basic ailments common among schoolchildren so they can help their youngster fight off infection in a variety of simple ways.

"A few days before school get your child into a bedtime routine so he or she doesn't start school tired," she adds. "This will affect the immune system and make them more vulnerable to germs.

Also try to make sure they have five helpings of vegetables and fruit a day and eat a healthy, balanced diet. If that's difficult make sure they have a daily multi- vitamin supplement."

Dr Denning, who's a director of Health Doctors, an integrated medical clinic in London, also points out that it's vital to ensure vaccinations are up to date so children are protected from the most common childhood illnesses.

"Most children are healthy enough to fight off germs," she adds.

"Common sense measures like getting them to be disciplined about washing their hands after the toilet and before meals can mean they're less likely to get irritating conditions passed on by contact, such as worms or an eye condition like conjunctivitis."

Tummy upsets
Upset tummies are common and can cause pain, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Dr Denning says: "These usually clear up of their own accord and children should just be kept at home and given lots of fluids. Parents who've just returned with their children from a holiday abroad should be aware that if the symptoms continue beyond a few days, or are severe, the child could have picked up a virus, bacteria or a parasite. They should see their doctor who may require tests to check."

Not drinking enough fluid can result in a child becoming tired and irritable, with poor concentration and memory loss - all damaging to classroom performance.

A recent survey by drinks company Robinsons revealed that over half of mums in the UK are unaware of the correct amount their child should be drinking - six to eight glasses a day - and the average child only has one-and-a-half glasses of fluid in a school day.

Make sure your child has drinks in his or her packed lunch and is aware they should find time for drinks at break and lunchtimes.

Coughs and colds
The new term means that children will come into contact with all sorts of new germs, so it's almost inevitable they will catch a bug at some stage.

For common colds the best treatment is to keep warm, get plenty of fluids and if necessary take over-the-counter painkillers. Speak to your pharmacist to find out which ones are most suitable for children.

Back Pain
Try to discourage your child from carrying everything around with them as it can lead to back problems.

Around eight to ten per cent of all school children suffer chronic or recurrent back pain, and the average child carries more than 30 per cent of their bodyweight in their school backpack.

We're lagging behind Europe on protecting children: France, Germany and Holland have policies on allowable weights for backpacks, as does Japan.

This serious illness is fairly rare but it is worth parents being aware of the signs and symptoms just in case.

Meningitis is the inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis and septicaemia affect about 3,000 people every year in the UK and Ireland and there are more cases in winter.

Anyone can get the diseases, but babies, children and young adults are most at risk.

Dr Denning says: "This needs emergency treatment.

The best thing parents can do is to be aware of the symptoms. If a child has a combination of symptoms - is unwell with a high fever, sore throat, neck pain, aching muscles and joints, vomiting and a severe headache - they should be seen as an emergency."

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