What's Your Cold and Flu IQ?
Pediatric health experts answer parents' top 10 questions about sneezy, sniffly cold-weather maladies.
3. Does being out in cold weather cause colds?
"It's not totally a myth," says Rotbart. While catching a chill does not seem to increase your chance of getting a cold, extreme weather conditions may play a role. For example, researchers found that people who soaked their feet in near-freezing water for 20 minutes were more likely than others to catch a cold. But most research does not support the idea that being cold causes you to get sick. More influenza and cold viruses circulate during the winter months, "their preferred season," says Rotbart, which is a better reason so many of us catch a cold or the flu.
During the winter months, kids also tend to spend time indoors, where they are in close contact with others and can easily transmit germs and contaminate classroom surfaces.
4. Is it true you should starve a cold and feed a fever?
"No. That's nonsense," says Rotbart. "There is no medical condition where starving anything is healthy for you. We encourage kids to eat and drink to the best of their ability." Full meals aren't necessary if your child doesn't feel like eating. However, hydration is crucial. "Drinking water is mandatory," says Rotbart.
5. When is my child too sick for school?
Two issues are at work here, says Rotbart: "What's best for your child? And what's best for everybody else in school? My threshold for parents is if their kid has a fever of more than 100 degrees, he or she should not go to school." Most schools will not let kids with a fever attend, Smith adds.
Perhaps the most important reason to keep your child home is to help prevent colds and the flu from spreading. Children who have obvious cold symptoms -- coughing, sneezing, dripping nose -- should be kept at home for the benefit of the teachers and other children, says Rotbart. "Kids rarely fake this."
6. How long is my child contagious?
After your child is exposed to the flu virus, it takes one to four days to develop symptoms, and no one knows exactly what the incubation period is, says Smith. That means your child can be contagious for a few days before showing any flu symptoms. With colds, kids are usually contagious two days before any signs, depending on the virus.
What about after a cold or flu? Children generally are not contagious after two to three days of cold symptoms and after four or five days with the flu, says Rotbart. "The general rule is when your child is feeling better, it's safe for others to be around them," he says. "There may be a smidgen of virus hanging around, but when they're feeling better, they're not sneezing and coughing as much and are less likely to spread the virus."