How to Protect Your Family from the Flu

This cold and flu season looks to be one of the most severe and widespread in recent memory. Given the same, why does it seem like children – especially school-age children – are more susceptible to getting sick? 
When school is in session, kids are continually within close proximity of each other, sharing utensils, the same door handles, balls, and, of course, each other’s germs. Couple that with an immature immune system that has not had the opportunity to build resistance to illness, and you have the answer to why so many kids get sick every winter.
What can be done?
While it is a pretty good bet that your child will come in contact with some form of illness this season, you can minimize his or her chances of actually becoming sick and/or reducing the length and severity of illness by following some of the suggested recommendations below. 
Get your child vaccinated
Consistent with state law, all school-age children need to be up to date on vaccines prior to entering school. Vaccines not only help protect your children from acquiring certain diseases, they protect those they may come in contact with (family, friends, schoolmates, etc.).  
Regular check-ups
Make sure your kids receive regular check-ups with a pediatrician. This helps to ensure your child has a healthy working immune system, and you’ll receive a careful evaluation of her or his nutrition and sleeping habits. 
Keep your germs to yourself
During cold and flu season, one fun option for children is for them to pretend to use a “scarf” while coughing or sneezing. “Wearing a scarf” is a non-literal term to remind kids to cough/sneeze into their elbows and their imaginary “scarf” – as opposed to their hands. This will keep the germs away from the child or those he or she may come into contact with in the classroom or at home.
Good hand washing techniques
One of the most effective – yet least utilized – techniques among children for staying healthy is washing their hands. With the plentiful amount of coughing, sneezing and touching that goes on in a school setting, all it takes is one touch by a child to his or her  nose and germs start spreading. The answer: proper hand washing. I recommend that children wash their hands after each use of the restroom, before a meal or a snack, and generally, any time their hands come in contact, or will come in contact, with their face.
The birthday song 
I’m often asked, “How long should I wash my hands for?” My response, and one of my most popular suggestions for children, is to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice to themselves while washing their hands with a good lather of soap under warm water. This usually takes about 20 seconds and is an effective and fun way for children to remember how to wash properly.
Sharing is not always caring
While sharing is certainly a wonderful value we want to instill in our children, when it comes to germs, we need to draw the line. Parents should advise their children not to share articles of clothing –which serve as repositories for germs – especially hats which can carry lice. Parents should also discourage children from sharing juice boxes or any other beverage container that could transmit germs.
Keep your home germ-free
Keep germs at bay with the use of disinfectant cleaning products (i.e. Lysol) and frequently wipe down high traffic areas including door knobs, countertops, bathrooms, play toys, and, of course, children’s rooms. Also, keep lots of tissues handy so your children will opt for those rather than their hands when coughing or sneezing. In addition, encourage your children to take off their shoes and leave them outside – along with their germs – when coming home from school. Lastly, have them get out of their school clothes once at home. Best to leave those germs headed straight for the washing machine rather than to the rest of the family.  
My child is sick
Despite all of your good efforts, sometimes your child will get sick. If they are less than 6 months of age, be sure to first call your doctor before giving any medications. For a cold or flu, have your child rest, drink lots of fluids, and control pain and fever with acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen (such as Motrin). Other great remedies include a steamer humidifier or a saline nose spray. Should a fever last longer than three days, immediately see a doctor. In terms of when is the best time for your child to return to school after being sidelined with a cold or flu, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that a child be fever-free for 24 hours. 
It’s that time of year when germs abound. Being prepared can mean the difference between your child contracting an illness or not. Hopefully, the above tips will keep you and your loved ones safe and sick-free this winter.
Remember the old and wise saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Stay healthy! 
Dr. Neepa Makim is a pediatrician at John Muir Health’s Pleasanton Outpatient Center.


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