A prominent consultant who assists school nurses throughout the country in helping students stay well has practical, easy-to-follow advice for parents seeking to reduce the frequency of illnesses during this year’s especially intense cough, cold and flu season.  If your child gets a cold or the flu, preventing other family members or classmates from becoming ill, helps to control the spread of these viruses.

“Prevention is so much better, especially for children with working parents, than dealing with nasty cold symptoms, according to Sandra Moritz who has  some 30 years in school nursing. “Unchecked, bacteria and viruses quickly spread among classmates at school and siblings and friends at home. Sneezing, coughing and runny noses are the primary carriers of respiratory illnesses, and these symptoms may last for up to two weeks per illness.

“Sneezes transport droplets with flu viruses, and travel up to six feet. Germs live for hours on books, toys, desks, screens and doorknobs. So, when children wipe their noses on their hands, touch something or sneeze into the air, there is a good chance of infecting another child – or adult.”

The good news, Moritz says, is that there are four simple steps teachers and parents can teach children, as young as age three, to reduce the spread of their germs:

  • Wash hands with warm, soapy water after using the bathroom, before eating and after playing with others. Wash for as long as it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song twice. It’s fun and ensures that children wash long enough. Place a stool at the sink to make it easier for smaller children, and show them how to point their hands downward, starting at the wrist and working downward in-between the fingers.
  • Cough and sneeze into sleeves, as the Centers for Disease Control recommends. Not the most appetizing thing to do, but very effective. Where possible, wear an anti-microbial Sneeve to absorb mucus and phlegm and kill germs. Less gross, and even more effective.
  • For older children, use tissues and hand sanitizer after sneezing and coughing and before touching anything. Apply hand sanitizer (about a dime’s-size), making certain that hands are rubbed in all areas, including fingers, until dry.
  • Try (ha!) keeping other children separated from children who have symptoms. No guarantees here, but it’s certainly worth a try.

Moritz counsels parents to keep their children home from school or daycare if they have a fever of 100F or more, and to keep them at home until the fever has subsided – without the aid of medication – for 24 hours. If a child has a sore throat, earache or does not seem to be improving, or has flu symptoms, contact your child’s healthcare provider for further guidance or an evaluation.

Moritz emphasizes that all children age 6 months and older should get a flu shot annually. And children 6 months through 8 years should have two shots (initial immunization requires two). The flu can be dangerous, especially for children with allergies or asthma or other conditions where respiration may be compromised.

Moritz directs parents and other caregivers to the CDC’s website and the American Academy of Pediatrics website  to learn more about how to treat children’s colds, flu and other illnesses. When it’s time to visit the doctor is a personal decision, but Moritz counsels parents to be alert to these warning signs and to contact their healthcare provider or go to the emergency room if a child has any of these symptoms: Difficult or rapid breathing, excessive wheezing, gray or blue skin color, high fever, thick nasal discharge that is yellow, green or gray, worsening cough, and extreme tiredness or listlessness, especially during times when a child is normally active.