Lethargy, a stuffy nose, aching muscles, dry coughs andfever – getting the flu can be an unpleasant time for anybody, let alone young children. Not only will it mean keeping your child away from school or nursery, but you may have to take time off of work to look after them. Complications can also arise, particularly in children with heart conditions or diabetes, and a hospital stay may be necessary in some cases. While children seem to be magnets for dirt and germs, there are plenty of ways you can help prevent your child from getting infected with the flu virus.
1) Keep vaccinations up to date
In 2014, for the first time in the UK, healthy children aged two and three will be given the chance to be vaccinated against the flu as part of the NHS Childhood Vaccination programme. Over time, this programme will gradually extend to include all children across the UK aged between two and 16. And there’s no need to worry about scary needles, a simple nasal spray, squirted into each nostril, is enough to protect your child against the flu virus. Getting vaccinated won’t necessarily mean your child won’t get ill or is immune to the flu virus, but it can significantly reduce their chance of getting infected. Should they still get infected with the flu virus after vaccination, symptoms are usually milder and the illness often won’t last as long.
2) Teach good cough etiquette
With flu germs travelling up to six feet after an uncovered cough or sneeze, it’s no wonder children are good at spreading illnesses, as their sneezes tend to go everywhere. Teaching your children the habit of covering their mouths with a tissue when they cough and sneeze and to throw the tissue away immediately after will help lots. If no tissue is on hand, a last resort could be to sneeze into the crook of your arm, as this can provide a better shield than your bare hands.
3) Keep hands and surfaces clean
The flu virus can survive on unwashed hands for up to 30 minutes. Keep your children’s hands clean by ensuring they wash them before and after eating, after they use the bathroom and especially after coughing or sneezing. A simple splash under the tap is not sufficient either. Use plenty of soap and hot water and wash for around 15 to 20 seconds, about the time it takes to sing two rounds of the ‘Happy Birthday’ song.
4) Disinfect hard surfaces and toys
While the flu virus can live for up to 30 minutes on unwashed hands, it can sometimes survive for up to two days on some hard surfaces. This means an infected person with poor cough etiquette can create a trail of contaminated surfaces with everything they touch. If someone in the house is already infected use a virus-killing disinfectant or diluted bleach solution to disinfect any hard surfaces. Light switches, taps, telephones, door handles, keyboards, TV remotes and any shared toys should all be disinfected regularly to avoid passing on the virus.
5) Eliminate exposure to second-hand smoke
It’s well known that second-hand tobacco smoke can cause breathing problems, ear infections, lung infections and even cancers in children. However, researchers at the Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora have now found children exposed to second-hand smoke also have a higher risk of upper respiratory tract problems and are more likely to develop complications from the flu. While keeping your child away from tobacco smoke won’t necessarily protect them from getting the flu, it may prevent serious complications developing. The seven-year study led by Dr. Karen Wilson, an assistant professor specializing in paediatric emergency medicine, also found smoke-exposed children took longer to recover from the flu and remained in hospital 70 percent longer than children not exposed. “This is a preventable cause of severe flu,” explains Wilson, “and it’s sad that children are in a position to be exposed even though these serious complications can occur,
6) Build a healthy body
Having a fit and healthy child means their body is well-equipped to fight off any infection they may encounter. Poor diet, stress and lack of exercise or sleep will weaken the immune system and reduce the number and efficiency of the cells needed to fight off intruders to protect the body. Ensure your child gets plenty of daily exercise and has a good, regular sleep routine. Access to a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables will also provide them with all the nutrients they need to build a strong, healthy body.
Dr Nigel Smith is a partner at Blossoms Healthcare, clinic specialised in health assessments, GP services, and occupational health. Nigel has over thirty years experience in managing complex health risks within working environments, as well as the refined skills necessary to support the most discerning of private patients.