Getting our walkways shoveled, driveways plowed, and windshields de-iced are just a few of the not-so-fun tasks we residents of the Northeast have to deal with every winter. (Wait, remind us again why we don't just move to Florida?) But no winter-induced drama is worse than when one of our kids inevitably gets the flu or a cold, wreaking havoc in our households as we try to spare siblings (and ourselves, thank you very much) from that same sneezing-sniffling fate, usually to no avail. But why do kids always seem to catch something in the winter and is there anything we can do to increase the odds of a no-sick-day season? We talked to Ashwin Jathavedam, MD, Chief of Infectious Disease at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center to get the answers.
1. Why are kids more likely to get the flu or a cold in the winter months vs. other seasonal months?
It’s generally believed to be a combination of children being indoors more, which allows viruses and germs to spread more easily, in addition to the seasonal appearance of numerous respiratory viruses, including influenza, during the winter months. There is data that shows that the spread of some viruses, particularly influenza, is enhanced by the cold weather.
2. What are some ways parents can be proactive in trying to prevent their kids from getting sick?
The best lessons parents can teach their children are the proper way to cover their mouth when coughing and the importance of proper hand washing, particularly when at school or daycare.
3. It seems some winters are worse with illnesses circulating around kids than other winters. Is this accurate? If yes, what do you think is the cause of this?
Most viral infections are stable year to year, however, influenza can vary in severity and frequency depending on the predominant strain, the climate, the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine and the number of patients who get vaccinated.
4. Are there things kids can do or eat to keep their immune system strong?
A well-balanced diet and exercise is advisable.
5. Is there anything kids shouldn't do or eat that will suppress their immune system causing them to be more prone to illness?
There’s nothing specific to avoid in terms of immune system suppression, though a healthy diet is always preferable to junk food, soda, sugars, etc.
6. If a child does get sick, is there a general rule of thumb of how long they are considered "contagious"?
It depends on the specific viral infection, but generally speaking, children are less likely to spread infection once they have been fever-free for 24-48 hours.
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