The kids may be home for the holidays and sniffle-free, but when they return to school in January, they'll bring home flu and cold germs that will sweep through the family and make everyone miserable.
“Schools are breeding grounds for germs,” says Dr. Gabe Mirkin, an Orlando-based physician who is board certified in both pediatrics and immunology. “Virus droplets are all over the classroom, on desks, toys, and doorknobs.”
Experts say proper hand washing and boosting the immune system are the two most valuable tools in avoiding the fall flu scourge.
“Teach your kids to wash their hands well, especially before eating,” says Dr. Mirkin. “And remind them to try to keep their fingers away from their faces.”
To ensure thorough hand washing, some experts have suggested that parents and kids sing “Happy Birthday” while scrubbing with soap. The song takes long enough — about 30 seconds — that you’ll be assured of getting rid of most of the germs. Also, encourage children to use a tissue to cover their noses and mouths when coughing and sneezing.
“Keep hand sanitizer in their backpacks and tell them to use it after touching common objects” such as railings and doorknobs, adds Neil Koa, M.D. of the Allergic Disease and Asthma Care Center in Greenville, S.C. “Also, give them antibacterial wipes so they can clean off the surface of their desk.”
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that everyone over the age of six months have an annual flu shot. “Getting a flu shot is probably a very good idea for children during the flu season,” adds Dr. Mirkin. The shot may be even more important to grandparents who frequently come in contact with their ailing grandkids.
It is also vital that everybody in the family keeps their immune system functioning at a high level.
“Start with a healthy diet filled with organic fruits and vegetables — especially those rich in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits,” says Ellen Kamhi, M.D., author of “The Natural Medicine Chest.”
Dr. Kamhi says that black elderberry tea or extract provides additional immune support against colds and flu.
Vitamin D may help lower the risk of catching colds and the flu, say experts. In a study released in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition, school children given vitamin D supplements throughout the winter were 40 percent less likely to develop the flu. A study at Yale University showed that adults with higher levels of the sunshine vitamin during the fall and winter were less likely to develop viral respiratory infections than people with lower levels.
To further boost the immune system, avoid sugary and fast foods, says Dr. Mirkin. Kids also need lots of sleep, exercise, and fresh air to build healthy bodies.
Cold or Flu?
Colds begin with a sore throat, runny nose, and/or sneezing. Other symptoms include congestion and a low-grade fever (below 101 F).
Symptoms of the flu include moderate to high fever (greater than 101 F), headache, chills, muscle aches, fatigue, cough, and loss of appetite. Some children also experience nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.