How can I keep my child from getting sick this winter?
Good question, since as sure as the mercury drops, cold and flu viruses make the rounds through homes and schools each year. If only there were a way to guarantee that your child won't get sick. Is there?
"Not really," says Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Many common winter viruses are airborne, so if your child takes a breath within, say, 4 to 6 feet of someone who's sick, he can easily catch the bug himself.
What's more, most people stricken by winter viruses are contagious before they develop symptoms. So pulling your child away from a sniffling, coughing, or sneezing pal doesn't guarantee that he won't come down with similar symptoms himself.
Neither will bundling him up: Studies have shown that exposure to cold or damp weather doesn't increase a child's likelihood of catching a cold, says Offit. Still, don't give up without a fight. There are several simple steps you can take to help fend off germs and keep your child as healthy as possible this winter.
So what should I do?
While it's practically inevitable that your child will get a few colds this winter no matter what you do, it won't hurt to try these germ-fighting strategies: Make sure your child washes his hands. Regular hand washing is the simplest, most effective way to get rid of cold and flu bugs. Teach your child to wash his hands with soap and warm water after he uses the toilet, before meals and snacks, and as soon as he comes home from school, the playground, or a friend's house.
You wash up, too, especially before preparing food and after wiping runny noses. No need to pay extra for fancy antibacterial soaps — any soap will remove germs from the skin's surface. In fact, the FDA is phasing out many active antibacterial ingredients in soaps and washes. They say these ingredients may do more harm than good.
Make sure your child's teachers and babysitters are vigilant about hand washing, too. Ask what the official hand-washing policy is at school. If it's less than satisfactory, don't be shy about requesting a change and reminding teachers that this protects their health as well.
Teach your child not to touch his eyes or nose.
At any given moment, the unwashed human hand is covered with thousands of germs. When a child rubs his eyes or nose, he's depositing those germs directly onto his mucous membranes, where they're rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream.
So in addition to having your child wash his hands frequently, remind him not to touch his eyes or rub his nose. Instead, teach him to use a tissue — or at least a clean sleeve — to dab at teary eyes or an itchy nose.
While you're at it, teach your child to use tissues when he sneezes or coughs — or to "catch" his coughs and sneezes in the crook of his arm. This won't prevent him from getting a virus, but it will help keep him from giving one.
Make sure your child's vaccines are up to date.
You can help protect your child from some viruses and bacteria simply by making sure his vaccinations are up to date and that he gets a yearly flu shot. Do what you can to boost your child's immunity naturally. Offer your child a variety of healthy foods so he gets the nutrients he needs. Make sure he gets plenty of sleep each night as well as lots of physical activity every day.