Things to know about common winter illnesses
Asthe cold weather arrives, cold and flu season is upon us once again.School-age children are particularly susceptible to the spread ofcolds, viral and bacterial infections, and the flu. These commonillnesses can actually be spread to other children before you evenrealize that your child is sick. There are some simple steps from theMassachusetts Department of Public Health and the Center for DiseaseControl and Prevention that you can take to try and keep your childhealthy this winter.
Treating and preventing the cold and flu
Recognize the symptoms.Colds are most contagious during the first couple of days, so it isimportant to look out for and recognize the symptoms. These include astuffy or runny nose, sneezing, a sore throat, a cough, and a headache.In some cases your child may have a mild fever. These symptoms canpersist for up to ten days. If your child does not seem to be gettingbetter after this time, make an appointment with his pediatrician.
Differentiate between a cold and the flu. Thecold and flu are both respiratory illnesses caused by differentviruses, so it is difficult to tell them apart. People with the flugeneral have the same symptoms as those with a cold, but they feelworse. They may also be very tired, experience body aches and stomachsymptoms (especially children), and have a fever. The flu can bediagnosed by a doctor and in some cases treated with antiviralmedication.
Stop it before it starts.The cold and flu can spread easily among children, especially those inschool or childcare. It is important to teach your child to use properhygiene in the home and at school. Teach your child to wash his handswith soap and water for 15-20 seconds (or long enough to sing HappyBirthday) after playing outside, before eating, and after coughing,sneezing, or blowing his nose. Children should only use alcohol-basedhand rubs under supervision; make sure your child rubs his hands untilthe product has dried. Infants and toddlers should never use theseproducts. Tell your child to cover his nose and mouth with a tissue ifhe has to sneeze, and to throw dirty tissues in the trash. Make sureyou clean toys or other items your child brings to and from school.
Get vaccinated. Childrensix months to 5 years of age are considered high risk for complicationsfrom the flu. The best way to prevent your child from getting the fluis to get her vaccinated. The more common type of vaccination is theflu shot, but a nasal spray flu vaccine is also available to certainpeople. Ask your childs pediatrician what the best option for her is.Generally, the best time to get vaccinated is October or November, butit is still beneficial to do so in December. Click here for theMassachusetts Department of Public Healths list of flu clinics bytown.
Soothe a sore throat. Sometimes,your child may develop a sore throat along with a cold. This is usuallycaused by a viral infection, and should go away in a few days. If asore throat persists longer than this, or if your child has difficultyswallowing, swollen glands, discharge when he coughs, or blisters histhroat, call his pediatrician. By taking a throat culture, a doctor candetermine if your child has strep throat or a viral infection thatneeds to be treated. For a minor cough or sore throat, over the countersyrups are available, and food such as popsicles may be soothing andfeel good to eat.
Make it better. Itis a common myth that consuming a large amount of Vitamin C can preventcolds. Studies have failed to prove this. However, Vitamin C may helpto relieve symptoms or lessen the duration of a cold. Stuffy nosescause the body to lose water. Give your child plenty of water and juiceto keep her hydrated. Make sure your child is eating small but healthymeals and snacks, even if she is not hungry. Chicken or vegetable soup,rice, and pasta are all good sources of energy and nutrition. Monitoryour childs symptoms, especially his temperature. Use a humidifier orvaporizer if your childs nose is very stuffy. You can give your childthe appropriate dosage of acetaminophen (Tylenol) to relieve fever oraches and pains. Never give aspirin to children or teenagers who havesymptoms of the flu, especially fever, without consulting a doctor.
Give a little TLC. Ifyour child has cold or flu symptoms and even a mild fever, keep himhome until he has been without a fever for at least 24 hours. Even ifhe does not have a fever, he may not have much energy, may not besleeping well, and may just want or need to rest and be taken care of.Whenever possible, keep your child at home and let him get plenty ofrest.
Thisinformation was compiled by Sunindia Bhalla, One Tough Job Manager, andreviewed by the Program Staff of the Massachusetts Childrens TrustFund.