Surviving Cold and Flu Season

The height of cold and flu season is here and it’s more important than ever for parents to practice every day healthy living and hygiene to prevent illness from striking your family. 
Wellness begins with the basics: proper nutrition, sleep and exercise. We hear it so often, but these are the cornerstones of keeping family members healthy during the winter months and throughout the year. 
The Necessity of a Healthy Diet 
With today’s busy lifestyles, meal preparation can be challenging, but you can make a difference by making sure your family’s daily diet includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. They boost the immune system and help to fight off germs and infection. 
Cut back on processed foods that often prevent the body from getting the nutrients it needs, and watch your children’s sugar intake. Keep sweets in-check as excess sugar inhibits the absorption of Vitamin C, a natural germ fighter.
The Importance of Proper Sleep 
Proper sleep is important at all ages, but especially when children enter school.  A lack of sleep has an adverse effect on the immune function.
Nine to 12 hours of sleep is recommended for children ages 3 to 12; and eight to 10 hours for teenagers. It’s estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that between 60 and 70 percent of middle and high school-aged children do not get sufficient rest at night. 
 Making sure your children get outside and stay active will help them fall asleep at night and promotes blood circulation, another factor in boosting immunity. 
Hygiene and Germ Prevention
At an early age, teach your children personal hygiene and continue to remind them of its importance. It will go a long way in preventing colds and flu. 
Prevention begins with proper hand washing with soap and water – 20 seconds at a time before meals, following bathroom visits and after they cough or sneeze. For young children, two rounds of the Happy Birthday song will help them judge how long to wash.  Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer handy when traveling for those times when a restroom may not be available.
Washing is key because the hands are magnets for picking up germs from high-touch surfaces like doorknobs, handles and countertops. Make sure children know to avoid touching their eyes, ears, mouth and nose where germs can travel to the mucous membranes.  
To prevent spreading germs to family members, friends and classmates, children should be taught to cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when it’s time to cough or sneeze, and then to throw it away in the trash. Sneezing into their sleeve is preferable when a tissue is not available. 
Not Too Late for Flu Shots
Although it’s February, it’s still flu season and not too late to get a flu shot, which remains the number one way to prevent the flu.
Since flu is highly contagious, it’s important for everyone in the family older than six months to get vaccinated, especially children, pregnant mothers and grandparents, all of whom have lower resistance to the flu.
According to the CDC, it takes about two weeks after vaccination for the antibodies that protect against the flu to develop in the body. Shots can be obtained from your pediatrician or family physician and are also readily available at retail clinics like MinuteClinic inside select Bay Area CVS pharmacy stores.  Flu shots are covered by health insurance, so there should be no cost. 
Cold or Flu
If a family member does become symptomatic for cold or flu, some simple diagnostic skills will help you determine the best course of treatment. 
A cold comes on slowly while the flu will hit rapidly. Flu symptoms will include muscle aches and high temperatures 100-102-degree F or higher. Rarely will you see these symptoms with a cold.
Most flu symptoms will improve over a period of two to five days, but they can go on as long as a week. While the symptoms are less severe, a cold can last anywhere from three to 10 days with the worsening of symptoms from days three to seven. 
The CDC recommends prompt flu treatment with antiviral drugs for individuals who are very sick or at high risk for flu-related illness, such as family members with chronic conditions like asthma and diabetes.  A medical professional can diagnose and prescribe antivirals for flu patients who seek treatment within 24 hours of being symptomatic. 
Otherwise, bed rest and getting plenty of fluids is the best course of action for the flu. Typically it will take about five to seven days to recover. Family members should stay home from school or work to prevent spreading the flu to other students and colleagues. CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone to prevent spreading the virus. 
For children with colds, a pain reliever and multi-symptom cold medicine will help them recover. If symptoms worsen and/or continue more than 10 days, it’s possible that upper respiratory infection has developed and an antibiotic may need to be prescribed by a medical provider to clear the condition and prevent other issues from developing.
 Ami Narayan is a mother of two living in Redwood City and is a nurse practitioner at MinuteClinic inside the CVS Pharmacy store in Burlingame.

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