Editor’s note: This post was updated August 2020.
When colder weather arrives, “ahchoo!” signals the beginning of the sick season.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, colds are the main reason children miss school and adults miss work. Adults average two to three colds per year, and children have even more.
“Households and parents can take small steps to prevent colds and flu from running the home this season,” said Sarah Tomesh, a Marshfield Clinic Health System family medicine physician assistant.
The basics: Prevent germs from spreading
“I’m sure most of us remember the basics even from elementary age,” she said. “Wash your hands often, avoid touching your face and don’t share food or dishware.”
Up the basics with these tips:
Wash your hands frequently and create hand sanitizer stations.
“Remind your children to wash their hands before and after eating, after bathroom use and after sneezing or coughing,” Tomesh said. “Tell them to sing Happy Birthday twice to guarantee they’ve spent enough time at the sink.”
Great complements to these reminders are hand sanitizer “stations” in each household room. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
Don’t touch eyes, nose and mouth and disinfect heavily-touched items.
Encourage kids to keep their hands away from their face.
Simple statements like, “Keep your fingers out of your mouth. That’s yucky,” can reinforce the idea. Other kids may need distractions, like coloring books or favorite toys.
Additionally, regularly disinfect heavily-touched items including:
- Soap dispensers
- Light switches
- TV remotes
Don’t share food or dishware and replace normal dishware with paper.
Germs spread fast and stick around. Minimize their opportunity to spread by replacing cloth hand towels with paper towels and regular drink glasses with paper cups. Use new paper towels or paper cups for each occurrence and toss immediately after use.
10 additional tips to prepare for and prevent colds and flu
- Clean out your medicine cabinet and refill with decongestants, cough syrups and pain medication. Purchase age-appropriate medications and carefully read medication directions like, “adults and children age 12 and over.”
- Stock up on other supplies to combat colds and flu like tissues, disinfectants, laundry detergent, dish soap, hand sanitizer, thermometer, heating pads and ice packs.
- Fill the fridge with healthy, comfort foods like chicken noodle soup, tea and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
- Check in with school and daycare and ask:
- What are your policies for illness and sick days?
- How often do you disinfect shared desks, supplies and toys?
- Check in with work and think about “sick” days. What are company policies for sick days? Can you afford unpaid leave or do you need to save time-off?
- Secure backup babysitters when you need someone on hand with short notice.
- Print and place your family provider’s contact information on fridge.
- Purchase fun distractions for a sick child like coloring books, puzzles and movies.
- Take the family outside to spend quality time together. Build snowmen, play snow tag or take a short walk around the block.
- Get a flu shot and check that all vaccinations are up-to-date.
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