Winter is upon us, and with it, the peak of cold and flu season. How can you keep your child from catching a nasty virus?
Parents have two main weapons, says Bridget Boyd, MD. She's the director of the newborn nursery at Loyola University Health System in Chicago. The first: good hygiene. "The best thing you can do to prevent catching whatever is going around is to encourage regular hand-washing, especially before eating meals," Boyd says.
You can take all the precautions in the world, but sometimes the flu sneaks around your defenses. So what do you do when someone in your house has the flu -- or even swine flu?
To give you an idea, here's a countdown of five average days with the flu. Keep in mind that this rundown is based on a typical case of seasonal flu. There's still a lot we don't know about swine flu. But so far, its symptoms seem to be pretty similar to those of common seasonal flu viruses.
Also, teach your child to sneeze or cough into a tissue or their bent elbow. Coughing into the hand will just spread those germs around on the next thing they touch, which may well be the face.
Encourage good hygiene with sticker charts or rewards, Boyd suggests. "Don't emphasize bad behavior. Instead, say, ‘Wow, I noticed you didn't put your hands in your mouth for the whole drive to school.'"
Keep hand sanitizer within easy reach, but supervise younger kids when they use it. "Older children, such as school-age kids, can be given small bottles of hand sanitizer to carry with them in their backpacks," Boyd says.
Flu Shots for Kids
Your second germ-fighting weapon is a flu vaccine. Babies ages 6 months and up can get the injected flu shot. Generally, kids ages 2 and older can start getting the nasal spray (unless they have asthma, or a very stuffy nose at the time of their doctor's visit).
"It's like using your seatbelt in the car," says Boyd, who has seen even healthy kids land in intensive care with severe flu symptoms. "Most of the time, you'll be just fine without your seat belt. You wear it for that one time when there's a bad accident and it could save your life. Most seasons, your child would be just fine without a flu shot, but why take the risk that she'll get a bad strain of the flu that you could have prevented?"
Good news this year: Some kids with egg allergies can now get the flu vaccine. "We used to shy away from giving the flu shot to anyone who's ever had a reaction to eggs," Boyd says. "But many kids outgrow egg allergies. If your child can eat scrambled eggs with no reaction, they can get immunized normally. Even if they get just a mild rash, we'll still give the vaccine and just observe them carefully."
"My son knows when we walk in the front door, the first thing we do is wash our hands. He still gets sick sometimes, but hand-washing is now a part of his routine." -- Bridget Boyd, MD