Each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publishes data regarding the recorded number of influenza cases, along with the approximate number of people hospitalized each year. These numbers are substantial, with anywhere from 140,000–710,000 flu-related hospitalizations happening every year since 2010.
Although a healthy adult may not contract the flu virus or become hospitalized as a result, there are certain portions of the population that are at higher risk of infection and complications. This at-risk population includes the elderly and very young children, particularly babies under the age of 6 months of age.
Consequently, it’s important to understand how the influenza virus is spread so preventative measures can be taken. Here are six ways to help protect children from getting the flu this season:
1. Limit exposure
Avoiding exposure is a sensible defense against any illness, particularly against the cold and flu viruses. Caregivers should watch the friends of their children and be aware of any signs of illness, whether it be coughing, sneezing or sniffling. If caregivers can realize when others are sick, they can reschedule playdates and prevent interaction accordingly.
Preventing the spread of sickness goes both ways. If you notice other kids are sick, it’s best to try to avoid interactions for a time. Likewise, if you or your children are sick, let others know and try to cut back on interacting with people in close quarters when possible.
It can be difficult to avoid being around people but using common sense and consideration will aid everyone in having a healthier season, and that is always a good thing.
2. Don’t spread germs
Along with limiting social interactions while sick, parents and caregivers should teach children how to act appropriately in order avoid spreading sickness. For instance, public health scientists have found that the flu virus generally passes through saliva and mucus droplets when someone talks, sneezes or coughs near another person.
Teach children to use the vampire cough, which goodscienceparenting.com describes as "coughing into their elbow sleeve (holding the elbow in front of the face looks like a vampire’s cape)." This technique that contains germs better than other methods like coughing into your hand.
Help your children cover each time they cough to prevent the spread of germs. Encourage frequent hand-washing (for at least 20 seconds in warm, soapy water) to also prevent the spread of germs.
3. Boost immune health
Just like with any type of illness prevention, taking care of a child’s general health is key. Help children consume nutrient-rich foods like whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables. Remind them to drink enough water and help children keep a good sleep schedule with adequate rest for a healthy body and immune function.
The winter holidays present countless opportunities to overindulge in sugary foods or to become especially lax with bedtimes. It might take some extra cajoling, but keeping a good sleep schedule and healthy eating habits will pay off when your children can stay healthy throughout the season.
4. Disinfect regularly
Although the flu virus generally passes from person to person, it can also survive on most surfaces for up to 24 hours. Even if you or your family aren’t ill, it’s all too easy for viruses to live on household surfaces such as doorknobs, light switches, countertops and other areas.
The CDC offers this information to help parents know about what types of disinfectant are most effective. If you prefer to avoid bleach and other harsh cleansers, you might try vinegar or tea tree oil. If you plan on using a disinfectant on eating surfaces, be sure to use products that are safe and nontoxic (like this list from healthykids.org), especially around small children who tend to put things in their mouths.
5. Use an air purifier/humidifier
Some studies show that the flu virus flourishes in dry environments and that could be one reason why the flu season happens in the colder winter months. A researcher who studied flu and humidity advises combatting the flu virus by keeping your home between 40 and 60 percent humidity.
In addition, pollutants and secondhand smoke can cause respiratory illnesses to last longer in children, so use a HEPA air purifier to keep your home’s air free of pollutants that could increase your child’s risk of respiratory illness.
6. Get a flu shot
In addition to good hand hygiene, the CDC recommends getting a flu shot as the best defense for anyone against getting sick. As long as they are over 6 months old, most children are able to get a flu shot. The best time to get a flu shot is before the exposure, which most experts recommend at or before the end of October each year.
If your child is too young for a flu shot, getting yourself and other close caregivers vaccinated will go a long way in protecting your baby and preventing their exposure to the flu.
Some flu medications are also helpful in reducing symptom intensity as well as the amount of time your child is sick. Protect your kids for a happy, healthy holiday season by visiting your nearest Mountain Star Health location for a flu shot today.
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