‘Tis the Season—For Colds and Flu! How to Keep Your Kids Healthy this Winter
On average, kids under age 3 catch six to eight colds a year. That’s a lot of runny noses! The cold virus can live for 30 minutes on hands, clothing, and toys, so when these things are shared, the germs can spread. Having lots of sniffles early in life may protect kids later on. Researchers have found that children who develop frequent colds in preschool catch fewer colds during their school years—most likely because their immune systems have learned to recognize and fight off the bugs.
The flu virus, which affects 5% to 20% of the U.S. population each year, spreads through the air when a person who has the virus sneezes, coughs, or speaks. The flu can sometimes be passed on through objects that someone with the virus touched, sneezed, or coughed on. When a healthy person touches these contaminated items and then touches their mouth or nose, the virus can enter their system. People carrying the flu can be contagious 1 day before their symptoms appear and about 5 to 7 days after they first get symptoms.
Children with colds and flu should stay home from school or other group care settings until they are fever-free and feeling better; however, having a sick child at home can be tough for lots of reasons—parents’ work schedules are disrupted, family members may miss out on plans, and it is no fun to see your little one unwell. To keep your kids healthy this season, it can help to follow these tips:
Have kids wash their hands frequently at home and school
Since kids often touch their mouths and faces, parents should make sure their kids’ hands are washed with soap and water to remove germs before eating, after using the bathroom, and when they come inside from playing. Hand sanitizer can be used for times when it’s not possible to wash.
Indoors or outdoors, get active
Kids should get regular, moderate exercise to boost their immune systems. Studies have shown that being active can help reduce cold and flu episodes.
Get plenty of sleep
Children need between 9 and 14 hours of sleep a day depending on their age. Sleep deprivation can weaken the immune system and increase the risk of getting sick.
Eat a well-balanced diet
Provide meals with plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables to help boost children’s immune systems. Look for foods rich in vitamin C and vitamin D, and avoid foods high in additives, preservatives, and sugars.
Elevated stress hormones can lead to decreased immunity. Give kids plenty of down time for rest and creative play to help lower their stress levels and keep them from getting sick.
Avoid germy sharing
Sharing is good for kids, but many commonly shared items can be breeding grounds for germs. Teach children to never share straws and cups, caps and scarves, or anything that comes in contact with their mouths and faces.
Get vaccinated against the flu
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get an annual seasonal flu vaccine. While vaccination by the end of October is recommended, vaccination efforts should continue as long as flu viruses are circulating.
For more information on preventing colds and flu, visit https://www.parenting.com/health-guide/cold-flu/prevention