We’re in the height of the sick season where the entire nation feels like a petri dish! From colds and respiratory infections to enterovirus and flu, it’s no wonder parents feel like they are fighting a losing battle when it comes to keeping their kids healthy.
“Kids will be exposed to germs and inevitably get colds, even with the best preventive measures,” says Jessica McIntyre, M.D., family physician at Loyola University Health System and assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
According to Dr. McIntyre, young children will get about seven to eight colds a year, and school-age children will average five to six colds a year. Kids tend to get more colds during the school year because they are in an enclosed classroom surrounded by other children who are sharing these very common viruses.
While it’s not possible to predict this season’s severity, timing and length of strep, colds and flus, now is the time to take preventive actions to reduce the spread of germs. To cut down the odds your little one catches a cold or flu bug or two, Dr. McIntyre suggests your family practice the 3 C’s:
Clean. Influenza, enterovirus and other viruses that cause colds are all spread by tiny droplets that are set in motion from coughing, sneezing or talking. The droplets carry particles which spread the virus, says Danelle Fisher, M.D., Vice-Chair of Pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif. “Transmission can occur from person to person even a few feet away.”
Contaminated surfaces like door handles, shopping carts or table tops, which may have drops on them, can also be a source of infection. To prevent any germs your child has touched, he should be reminded to wash his hands – a lot! And that advice goes for parents, too.
Dr. McIntyre says everyone should wash their hands thoroughly after going to the bathroom, if you cough or sneeze into your hand, and before eating.
Cover. Most germs are spread when a person coughs or sneezes. And to prevent germs from being passed around your family or at school, kids (and their parents, too) should always cover a cough or sneeze. It’s best to use a tissue, but if one is not available, cough or sneeze into your elbow instead of covering up with your hand.
Contain. Stay at home if you are sick; germs are one thing that aren’t good to share.
Here are some additional suggestions to help increase your odds of staying healthy this flu season:
Disinfect Germ Hot Spots. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, like desks, computer mice and doorknobs, especially when someone is sick. In the classroom, teachers can use a disinfectant, like Clorox® Disinfecting Wipes, to kill 99.9 percent of germs that can live on hard, non-porous surfaces for up to 48 hours.
Leave school at school. Dr. McIntyre recommends kids wash their hands as soon as they get home from school. “Consider having them change into “home clothes” to further reduce the risk of exposure to germs,” she says. “This is especially beneficial if you have a young infant at home.”
Get vaccinated. A yearly flu vaccine is the first and most important step in flu prevention, says Tanya Altmann, M.D., a pediatrician and assistant clinical professor at Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine each year to protect against the flu. And Dr. Altmann says it’s not too late. The CDC says flu season will peak between December and February but can linger into May.
Eat to be healthy. A diet that is balanced and healthy can help the immune system to function well. “At the first signs of a viral infection, supplementing the diet with high doses of vitamin C, zinc and echinacea can help shorten the duration of a cold,” says Dr. Fisher. Preparations of these vitamins and minerals can be found over the counter in drug stores. “Drinking lots of liquids, especially water, is important to maintain good health, too,” says Dr. Fisher.