While viral infections are active year-round, the drop in temperatures during fall and winter makes children more susceptible, partly because their immune system is still developing, and also because they spend more time indoors with other people who may be infected.
Most of these infections last for just a few days and then disappear without lasting effects. Although the symptoms of colds and flu are similar, the two are quite different, and can be prevented using different measures.
Cold or flu?
Colds are characterized by a runny or stuffy nose and sneezing. Your child may also experience coughing, watery eyes, and a scratchy throat. There is no known vaccine against colds since they can be caused by a wide range of viruses. Colds start gradually and spread through contact with mucus.
Flus attack suddenly, tend to be more serious, and last longer than colds. Fortunately, your child can get vaccinated annually for protection from getting the flu. This vaccine is critical during the flu season, which runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere. A flu is characterized by a runny or stuffy nose, watery eyes, sneezing, nausea, and vomiting.
How to prevent the seasonal cold
You can reduce the risk of your child getting these viral infections this winter by:
- Getting them vaccinated against the flu The flu vaccine is available as a nasal spray or a shot, and is best administered between October and November every year. A new flu vaccine is needed every year since the pre-dominant flu viruses change every year.
- Teaching them to wash their hands often Both colds and flu can be passed through sneezing, coughing, and touching contaminated surfaces, including hands. So, teach your children to wash their hands regularly with warm water and soap for about 15 seconds.
- Limit exposure to infected people It is best to keep children away from crowds of sick people. The germs can easily spread when a sick person coughs or sneezes. Also, your child should not leave the house if they have a fever of 100˚F or more, a sore throat, or diarrhea or vomiting.
- Practice good habits Instruct your child to avoid touching their eyes, nose, or mouth as this can easily spread germs. Also, have them carry a tissue to cover their nose and mouth when sneezing, coughing or blowing the nose. Have them discard used tissues and then wash their hands. If a tissue is not available, teach them to sneeze into the elbow or sleeve – not into the hands.
- Exercise good hygiene Discourage your children from sharing food, beverages, utensils, toys, towels, and other items that may be contaminated with germs. This can be hard to maintain during the holidays. So, regularly clean surfaces that are touched often, such as taps, doorknobs, light switches, and appliance handles.
In the unfortunate event that your child gets sick, you can use ibuprofen or acetaminophen to relieve some of the symptoms. But contact your doctor if your child has a fever.