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Parents: How to avoid your child's illness

When you're around your kids, you're around germs: cold germs, flu germs, germs of all kinds.

But when your kids get sick, you can stay well by practicing good hygiene, getting a flu shot and taking a few other precautions.

Remember: It's hard to nurse a sick kid back to health if you feel lousy yourself.

How infections spread

A good first step in avoiding a cold or flu is to understand how those infections are spread.

When infected people cough or sneeze, they release germs in tiny drops. You can become infected if you breathe these drops. If you touch a surface where the germs have landed and then touch your nose or mouth before washing your hands, infection can result as well.

Some viruses and bacteria can live more than two hours on a contaminated surface.

Babies face unique dangers from infections because they are born with immature immune systems.

Kids also tend to pick up infections from other children. That's because toddlers playing together are likely to touch each other and share toys. Touching sippy cups or other items can also spread infection.

Practice good hygiene

Knowing those basics, you can see how simple, good hygiene can help limit infections in your family. Try these ideas from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Teach your kids to cover their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing—and do the same yourself when you are sick. When your kids are old enough, show them how to blow their noses correctly.
  • Use tissues for kids' runny noses and sneezes. Toss the tissues out after one use.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water often. And be sure to teach your kids this important skill. Handwashing is essential after nose-blowing, sneezing or coughing. You should also scrub up after tending to a sick person, using the bathroom, changing diapers or handling garbage. And always wash your hands before preparing or eating food. If there's no soap or water, use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.
  • Wash dirty dishes in hot, soapy water or in the dishwasher.
  • Regularly clean toys, doorknobs and toilet handles. Countertops, desks and other areas where germs might land should be cleaned too. Use soap and hot water or a disinfectant.
  • Don't let kids share cups, washcloths, towels, toothbrushes or other items.
  • Don't smoke around kids. It can make it harder for them to get over an infection.
  • Limit contact with sick family members. You can be close and comforting to a sick child, but limit the kissing.

The flu vaccine

Beyond good hygiene, the best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine.

CDC says younger children are at high risk for a hospital stay due to the flu. That's one of the reasons CDC recommends yearly flu vaccines for healthy kids 6 months and older, as well as for adults.

Getting vaccinated is important for parents, caregivers and other people in close contact with young kids. And it's especially important when the kids are too young to be vaccinated themselves. Getting a vaccine may help keep you from getting the flu from your child. But it may also help prevent you from getting your child sick.

Healthy habits

Yet another key to staying healthy is to follow general good-health habits.

Get plenty of sleep. Eat right. Drink enough fluids. And stay active. All of these can go a long way toward warding off illness, according to CDC.

Talk to your doctor about other strategies that can help you and your family stay well.

Reviewed 4/25/2024

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