Healthy tips for parents and kids to help prevent the spread of colds and the flu

October 19, 2013 Michelle Cole, MD

Summer has ended, the kids are back in school, and fall is officially here. Which means….cold and flu season is upon us! Hospitals are already seeing documented cases of seasonal influenza. There are no known cures for colds and flu, so cold and flu prevention should be your goal.

Why do we care about preventing influenza? The flu can be very dangerous for children, causing illness, hospital stays and death each year. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) reports about 20,000 children below the age of 5 are hospitalized from flu complications each year.

The most effective way for preventing the flu is to get the flu shot. It works better than anything else. (Flu vaccination is recommended for all children aged 6 months and older). There are additional strategies you can employ to help ward off those nasty viruses.

Here are 6 tips you can use to help prevent colds and the flu:

  • Keep your hands clean! Use soap and water to wash your hands, especially after you cough or sneeze. If soap and water are not available, hand sanitizers can be used as well. Make sure you are teaching your children to wash their hands properly, scrubbing with soap and water for at least 30 seconds. Try having them sing a song or two to help pass the time.

  • Cover up that nose and mouth! Cold and flu viruses can become airborne on droplets of saliva when someone sneezes or coughs. Teach your child to cover a sneeze or a cough with a tissue. Throw the tissue away after use and wash your hands. If a tissue is not available, cover your mouth and nose with the inside of your elbow.

  • Avoid touching your face! Cold and flu viruses enter your body through the eyes, nose, or mouth. Touching their faces is the major way children catch colds and a key way they pass colds on to their parents.

  • Clean and disinfect surfaces or objects! Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school. Think about high-traffic areas like door-handles, counter tops, phones, computers, and bathroom surfaces. It is helpful to have disinfecting wipes in your purse or car so you can keep those germs away when you are on the go.

  • Do aerobic exercise regularly! Exercise is known to help increase the body’s natural virus-killing cells. So bundle up and take a walk to the park or encourage your child to join a sports team.

  • Eat healthy! Give kids foods packed with phytochemicals or “phytos”. Choose the deepest-colored fruits and veggies you can find: blueberries, tomatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes…the more color in the food, the more phytos and immune-boosting power it has.

If your child does have the sudden onset of high fever, chills, achy muscles, and fatigue (common symptoms of influenza), call your child’s physician to discuss whether urgent evaluation is needed.

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