It’s that time of year when the dreaded flu rears its ugly head. Ensure your family has put up a defense system to keep your home flu-free.
“Germs cause the flu, and many other sicknesses from the common cold to more serious illnesses such as meningitis, bronchiolitis, hepatitis A, and most types of infectious diarrhea,” says Stacy Meyer, MD, pediatric endocrinologist and a member of the Dr. Mom Squad at Dayton Children’s.
“These germs can be transmitted many ways, including touching dirty hands, changing dirty diapers, through droplets released during a cough or sneeze, through dirty surfaces or contaminated water and food,” says Dr. Meyer. “Whether I’m taking care of my own children or children at Dayton Children’s, I I know how important clean hands are.”
Excellent hand washing is the first line of defense against the spread of many illnesses, including the flu. Teach and reinforce these good hand washing habits from Dr. Meyer:
- Use soap and warm water to create a good lather. Wash hands for 20 seconds—about as long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are OK if soap and water are not available.
- Make sure you get in between the fingers and under the nails where uninvited germs like to make a home. And don't forget the outside of the thumbs and wrists!
- Rinse and dry well with a clean cloth or paper towel.
“To minimize the germs passed around your family, make frequent hand washing a rule for everyone,” says Dr. Meyer. “Key times for hand washing include before eating and cooking, after using the restroom, after cleaning the house, after touching animal and family pets, before and after visiting sick friends or relatives, after being outside and after blowing one’s nose, coughing or sneezing.”
In addition to good hand washing, here are a five more things that you can do to prevent getting or spreading the flu.
- Get vaccinated. Every child age six months and older should get the flu vaccine.
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue. If children don't have a tissue, teach them to cough or sneeze into their shirt sleeve.
- Never share cups and eating utensils.
- Keep sick children at home. Children should stay out of school or day care until they are better—usually seven days after the illness starts.
- Eat healthy and get enough sleep.
Start building up your flu defenses today by following these germ busting habits!
What if my child gets the flu?
Even if you follow all the precautions, a child may still come down with the cold or flu. How do you know which is which?
- The flu: High fever, chills, muscle aches, headache, cough (sometimes severe), exhaustion, loss of appetite and sore throat.
- The cold: Low fever if any, runny nose, little coughing; child's appetite and energy level are usually not affected.
Dr. Meyer says the best way to treat children who have the flu is to make sure they get extra rest, drink plenty of fluids and eat light, easy-to-digest foods like applesauce. Go to your pediatrician, family doctor or urgent care if you have any concerns about the flu.
“Parents should pay close attention to children younger than 2 years old because they have smaller airways and cannot handle illness as well as older children or adults would,” says Dr. Meyer. “Parents should contact a pediatrician if children have any serious symptoms.”
When is it an emergency?
There is no need to go to the emergency department for the flu unless your child has a pre-existing condition or has any of the following symptoms:
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Bluish or gray skin color
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Not waking up or not interacting (not responding to your voice or making eye contact)
- Being so irritable (cranky) that he or she does not want to be held
- Not urinating (peeing) or no tears when crying
- Symptoms improve, but soon return with a worse cough and fever
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