SILVER SPRING, Md., September 29, 2012 – As the weather changes we start thinking about changing leaves, decorating for Halloween or Thanksgiving, or maybe looking forward to colder weather and hot cocoa. However, the change in temperature and subsequent cold weather create prime conditions for illness, in particular the flu and the common cold. While these viruses can hit anyone, young children are particularly susceptible, and if they get sick you can count on the bug quickly spreading throughout the rest of your family.
So, with the weather starting to turn colder and you hear the first sniffles of noses around you, what can you do to minimize your child’s risk of getting sick?
The Centers for Disease Control say that flu season can last from October to May. While flu shots cannot possibly protect against ever strain of flu out there, they do help. The vaccine is usually designed to protect you against what experts think will me the three most common or most virulent strains of the virus that year. Today, protection against the H1N1 virus is usually included.
There are different vaccines for children than for adults, and still a separate vaccine for people over 65. The CDC recommends everyone over the age of 6 month be vaccinated, but emphasizes the importance for pregnant women, the elderly, people with medical conditions or those who care for people with medical conditions.
Keep in mind it does take about two weeks for the vaccine to build up sufficient protection in your body and you can get sick in the interim. You can get more information about the flu vaccine on the CDC’s website.
Wash and sanitize
The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates the average child has eight to ten colds during his first two years of life. If that seems like more runny noses than you want to deal with, then you should take steps to help prevent your little one’s exposure to the virus that causes colds. All those runny noses are prime sources for spreading the virus. Wiping the nose on the back of the hand, then touching toys, books, or even other children just spreads the virus from person to person.
Teach your child to use tissues to wipe his nose and to wash his hands afterwards. You also want to be vigilant about the things he touches. He’s not going to think about spreading germs or that he can get sick by playing with toys, so it is your responsibility as a parent to sanitize his environment. If he gets sick or catches a cold, make sure you wash all of his toys. Some toys can be soaked in a mild bleach solution, some can be wiped down with rubbing alcohol, and some – like security blankets or stuffed animals – will need to be sanitized with high heat in your dryer. Also, make sure you are regularly cleaning anything that routinely leaves the house, especially if it is going to a place with many other children. Backpacks, lunch boxes, stuffed animals, and even jackets, hats, and gloves can all be breading grounds for viruses that are spread through coughs, sneezes and contact.
Colds are especially easy to spread, and if every parent kept their children home when they are under the weather there would be many fewer incidences of illness to start with. The virus that causes the cold mutates with each new person it infects. So, day care centers, schools and play groups are perfect breeding grounds. The same virus can be passed around the group for months, going from one child to the next until it has sufficiently changed to be able to trick your child’s immune system and re-infect him.
While it may be inconvenient, keeping your child home and out of day care centers, play groups, and other social centers while he has a cold or is sick is the best way to help prevent the spread of the virus. The virus only has a 2-3 day incubation period, but can hang on for 10-14 days once caught. If you have the flexibility in your schedule, or can get someone else to stay with your little one while you work, try to keep your child home when he is at the peak of the virus – when he’s sneezing the most and has the runniest nose. Most child care centers have health policies, so make sure you know when they will and will not allow your child to attend. Talk to some of the other parents in your child’s groups and see if they will agree to keep their children out when they have a cold as well.
While there is no cure for the common cold, and the flu can make any one miserable, a little prevention can help minimize the impact other people’s health have on your family this cold and flu season.
Follow Brighid on Twitter at @BrighidMoret and receive updates when new columns post on Facebook. Read more about first time parenting issues in Parenting the First Time Through at The Communities at The Washington Times.
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