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.
Questions & Answers about the 2009–2010 Flu Season
What sort of flu season is expected this year?
Flu seasons are unpredictable in a number of ways, including the timing of
the beginning, severity, and length of the flu season.
This flu season (2009-2010), there are more uncertainties than usual because
of the emergence of a new 2009 H1N1
influenza virus (previously called "novel H1N1" or "swine flu") that has
caused the first influenza pandemic (global outbreak of disease) in more than
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