By Dr. Booker – Pediatrics
My two year-old son missed the first week of 2016 from a winter virus. Just as he was on the mend, our six year-old daughter caught the same bug, and so did I. We all want to spare our families from illness for obvious reasons, but these winter germs also cause havoc with work and school schedules – and definitely interfere with type of life we hope to live in Bend.
Little kids tend to get sick pretty frequently this time of year. At school, they’re gathered indoors in large groups, sharing everything. This makes it easy to trade viruses back and forth. Unfortunately it’s not tag; passing the germ to their buddy doesn’t get them off the hook. Plus, kids’ immune systems are still developing, so they tend to pick up everything. This is nature’s way of programming their bodies’ response to infections so they can hopefully become functional adults someday.
Luckily, there are a few things we parents can do to help keep our kids healthy.
Preventing the spread of illness
Viral illnesses make up a vast majority of what make kids sick, and viruses spread very easily between patients. If there’s one sick kid in class who coughs, the microscopic droplets they cough out can be easily inhaled by other children and spread the infection. A way to stop this mode of transmission is to teach your child to cover their mouth when they cough or sneeze. By covering their mouth, they significantly decrease the distance those droplets can go, thereby limiting the spread of the illness. Going one step further, you could teach them The Vampire Cough, which is when they cover their mouth with the crook of their elbow. Besides being kind of fun, this way the germs stay on their elbow instead of their hands, so they’re less likely to spread it when they touch anything.
This brings me to the next preventative measure, hand hygiene. Many illnesses, like stomach bugs, are spread when kids put their fingers or toys in their mouth that are contaminated with germs. Those germs are usually put there by a sick child who hasn’t washed their hands. Remind your child to wash their hands after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing their nose. Having them wash their hands for as long as it takes to sing the song “Happy Birthday” twice will adequately clean them. Now I know that kids are never going to remember to clean their hands all the time, but even a small increase in hand hygiene will help make a healthier classroom. Most classes also have sanitizing hand gel available.
Of course, it’s also important for your child to sleep well, get plenty of exercise, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and stay current on their vaccines. This includes the seasonal influenza vaccine. Remember, our children are filthy, disgusting creatures that will get sick whenever they have a chance. It’s our job to try to keep them healthy.