By Dr Carmen
With winter fast approaching there will be other viruses (and bacteria) to worry about besides the COVID-19 virus. The problem with winter, is that we all tend to stay indoors more often, huddling, with all the windows and doors closed. Being in such close proximity to others only increases the spread of germs and most notably the respiratory pathogens that cause RSV, Croup, Strep throat, the common cold and flu.
We all know that our children are more vulnerable to infection and severe illness because their immune systems are immature. They won’t actually be mature enough until around 7 or 8 years of age. So, here are some tips to help keep your little ones healthy and safe over the upcoming winter months:
Make sure everyone in your family gets the seasonal flu vaccine every year. Children from as early as 6 months can already get vaccinated. It is recommended you receive the flu vaccine before the flu season starts but it’s never too late.
In South Africa, the flu season usually starts around the first week of June but in previous years it has started as early as April. This year I recommend you get the flu vaccine this month already.
The more people who are vaccinated, the less the influenza virus will be transmitted and therefore fewer people will get sick, especially those at high risk for flu complications such as pregnant women, children under 5, elderly over 65 and people with chronic medical conditions.
2. COVER YOUR COUGH
Children need to learn about cough etiquette early. One should either cough into a flexed elbow or into a tissue. If a tissue is used it needs to be thrown away immediately after use and hands need to be washed. Coughing into hands only allows the germs to sit on the skin and then be transferred onto surfaces, as well as directly into the eyes, mouth and nose, to cause infection.
3. HAND WASHING
Wash hands often, with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds. That’s about as long as it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song twice. Respiratory pathogens enter the body through the mucous membranes of the eyes, mouth and nose. This means that every time you touch these parts of your body with hands that have germs on them you have a high risk of infecting yourself. This is especially important for our little ones who are more prone to putting their fingers and other things into their mouths.
Hands are the biggest carriers of germs and the most common way people get sick during winter.
4. CLEAN ALL SURFACES
Microorganisms can survive on surfaces for a few minutes up to several hours. The Influenza virus, for example, can survive for up to 48 hours. Therefore it’s important that you regularly clean all household surfaces, door handles, light switches, toys and any objects your child may put into their mouths. Don’t forget about the mobile phones and tablets.
5. WATER BOTTLES AND SHARING
Your child should have their own labelled water bottle. Sharing of cups and bottles, which may be contaminated, is a sure way to spread germs. In addition to this, children should not share food with others. I know this can be really difficult to enforce with the littlest but utensils and even food can become contaminated.
6. AVOID SECOND HAND SMOKE
The mucous membranes in the nose and sinuses are lined with tiny little hairs called cilia. These hairs keep the nose, sinuses and in effect the lungs clean of airborne particles such as dust, bacteria and even viruses. Smoke damages these hairs so they don’t work properly, which will lead to more infections of the respiratory tract.
It’s not always possible to prevent your children from getting sick but you can at least practice healthy habits, and more importantly teach these to your kids, to reduce their risk of infection.