It happens every year. First comes a sniffle, then a cough, then a fever and pretty soon your child is in bed with a cold or the flu.
Children often are more susceptible to catching cold or flu because they haven’t had a lifetime of illness to build their immunity. Also, they often spend hours in institutions such as schools or daycares where there are a large number of children serving as incubators for germs. Additionally, children are less likely to have proper hygiene, which is one of the primary methods of preventing disease from occurring.
It’s been said before, but really the importance of hand-washing cannot be overstated. Whether it’s alcohol-based hand sanitizers or old-fashioned soap and water, the best way to prevent cold and flu – for you, your child and everyone else – is to wash those hands frequently and well.
There are some potential preventative alternatives as well. Vitamin C, as well as B complex vitamins and Omega-3 fatty acids have shown some ability to boost immune systems in an effort to ward off illness. They are safe for children, but certainly provide no guarantee that your child will never get sick.
Flu vaccines can help. I recommend vaccinations for children between six months and five years of age, provided they have no contraindications for the vaccine. Children under five are at just as high a risk of hospitalization with influenza as the elderly. Additionally any child with a condition that makes them more susceptible to illness should receive the flu shot. The flu shot is very well tolerated by children and it is a rarity that any child gets sick from the vaccine itself.
If your child does get sick, I recommend using medications sparingly. Most cold medicines aren’t terribly effective and it should be emphasized that no medicine available over the counter will get your child better faster. Recently it was determined that children under the age of two should not use cold medicines. Those between the ages of two and six should use them as little as possible.
Finally, if your child does develop cold or flu, you can help prevent it from spreading to others by keeping them home until they are no longer contagious. My general rule of thumb is that if they haven’t had a fever within 24 hours, and if they have started to show signs of improvement, they should be ready to return to school or daycare.
--Michael Jampol, M.D.
To hear Dr. Jampol discuss tips on how to prevent your child from getting the cold or flu, listen to Martin Memorial Healthcast. You can access the weekly podcast by visiting www.mmhs.com/content/healthcasts.htm.