HEALTHY TODAY | Keep your kids healthy during cold, flu season

Cold and flu season is upon us, and as the germs start to circulate, it seems inevitable that your kids or you will catch something this winter.

Every parent dreads their child getting sick, even if it’s “just” a cold. At best, you have a child not feeling well, not eating or sleeping well — a child missing school and parents missing work. At worst, a cold occasionally develops into something more, requiring a visit to the doctor and medical attention.

What’s an overworked, sleep-deprived parent to do? Well, here are some facts and practical tips to help keep your family healthy this cold and flu season.

Avoiding infection
Viruses are one type of germ that infects cells and makes us ill. Some common illnesses from viruses include head colds, stomach bug and influenza (the flu).

Hundreds of different viruses can cause cold and flu-like symptoms, making us feel lousy. Some of the discomfort we feel is the direct effect of the virus on our cells; some is the effect of our bodies’ immune systems fighting off the virus.

Unlike bacterial infections, which can be treated with antibiotics, there are no medicines we can take to kill the viruses that cause colds and flu; we need to rely on our immune systems to do that job for us.

What we can do is protect ourselves from getting infected in the first place. If we do get sick, we can treat the symptoms and help our immune system do its job.

Cold and flu viruses are not airborne: You can’t catch a cold just by being in the same room as someone who’s sick. You generally need to come into direct contact with their oral or nasal secretions.

So if someone with a cold sneezes into their hand and then pushes open a door with their virus-covered hand and, minutes later, your child pushes open the same door and then eats a sandwich — she just ate a virus sandwich.

Good hand washing is the key to helping reduce the spread of cold and flu viruses. Teach your children to wash their hands frequently with soap and water — and always before eating, after using the restroom and after being in a public place.

Regular soap is fine; antibacterial soap isn’t necessary because colds are caused by viruses not bacteria. Hand sanitizer works too, although soap and water is better, if available.

Children can also help stop the spread of viruses by coughing or sneezing into a tissue or into the crook of their elbow instead of into a bare hand.

Helping our immune system
The flu vaccine is a great way to protect your kids and yourself this fall and winter. Everyone over the age of 6 months can get a flu shot. Most older than 2 years can get the nasal spray version. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about eligibility requirements. Sure, with a flu shot your arm may hurt for a few hours or so, but it’s better than fever, chills, cough and body aches for a week or more!

And, finally, to keep your family in tip-top shape this cold and flu season, make sure everyone is giving their bodies the resources they need to fuel their immune systems. What this means is good food and good sleep.

Good food translates into some protein, some carbs, not too much fat or sugar and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are key because that’s where we get many essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. These naturally occurring chemicals help with many important functions in our bodies, including keeping our immune systems strong.

Try to aim for at least five servings of fruits and/or vegetables a day.

In addition, good sleep is important for immune function. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation leads to an impairment in immunity, including fewer white blood cells (our bodies’ main cellular defense against infection), as well as fewer antibodies (one of the weapons our white cells use to fight germs).

Although every child is unique, in general, toddlers/preschoolers need about 11 to 13 hours of sleep a night; young school-age kids, 10 to 11 hours; “tweens,” nine to 10 hours; and teens, eight to nine hours.

So that’s it: Wash hands, get your shots and make good food and sleep a priority. With these practices, hopefully, we can all stay as healthy as possible this cold and flu season.

DR. AKIKO HALL is a pediatrician at Pacific Medical Centers. Pacific Medical Centers has locations in Beacon Hill, First Hill and Northgate. To comment on this story, write to[[In-content Ad]]