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Kids, Flu and You: How to Prevent Viral Infection

By Rachel Olis

The start of a new school year brings excitement and anticipation of the year to come. Unfortunately, it also brings viruses (a type of germ) that can spread between children and cause sickness. Every year, 22 million school days are lost because of the common cold. Once a child is exposed to these germs, they can become infected by touching their eyes, mouth or nose. These infected children unknowingly continue to spread germs and infect more children. Viruses spread through the body quickly and cause sicknesses such as a cold and the flu. Antibiotics cannot treat these illnesses.

So what can parents do to minimize the risk of these viruses in children?

1- Prevent the spread of germs

“Helping to prevent the spread of germs and viruses is important in making sure that your child does not get sick,” said Brenda Vason, Manager of Infection Prevention and Control at Children’s of Alabama. Hand washing is the first line of defense. This simple practice protects against the spread of infectious germs. It is important that hand washing is performed properly to ensure that germs are scrubbed away.

To make sure your children are getting the most out of their wash:

  • Wash in warm water, but make sure that it isn’t too hot for little hands.
  • Use soap and lather for about 20 seconds. Make sure to get in between fingers and under the nails where germs like to hide.
  • Rinse and dry well with a clean towel.

Be sure that your children know to wash their hands before eating, after using the bathroom, after cleaning, after touching animals, after contact with someone who is sick, after sneezing or coughing or after being outside.

Getting a flu vaccination is another important way to keep from getting sick. The flu is a highly contagious virus of the respiratory tract. The flu vaccine does not cause the flu and keeps children and parents from getting sick. It is now recommended that everyone 6 months or older get the vaccine.

2- Be aware of signs and symptoms

Viral Infections can cause many symptoms that can differ from child to child. These symptoms can also change as the illness progresses.

Sometimes it can be difficult to determine if your child is experiencing a common cold or the flu. Typically flu symptoms present themselves suddenly and are more severe than a common cold. However, you should not brush these symptoms off. Symptoms, which normally begin about two days after contact with the virus, can include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tiredness
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Ear pain
  • Diarrhea

3- Know when to call the doctor

For the most part, these viral infections will go away on their own with a little rest and relaxation. However, there are some cases that require medical attention. You should call the doctor if your child:

  • Has flu symptoms
  • Has a high fever or fever with a rash
  • Has trouble breathing or rapid breathing
  • Has bluish skin color
  • Is not drinking enough fluids
  • Seems very sleepy or lethargic
  • Seems confused
  • Has flu symptoms that get better, but then get worse

Children who are sick should stay home from school or daycare until their fever has been gone for at least 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.