Prepare Now for Cold and Flu Season

shutterstock_18045301With the school season underway, there’s another season not far behind – the cold and flu season. And while it’s nearly an annual experience for families – that seemingly endless cycle of colds that circulate through classrooms – there are steps families can take to help keep everyone in the household as healthy as possible.

Healthy Habits

Healthy behaviors matter, explains Dr. James Conway, UW Health pediatric infectious disease specialist.

“The ‘tried and true’ methods are important and truly can help reduce the chances you will get sick,” he commented.

Those ‘tried and true’ methods are ones we’ve heard even since we were kids, but they bear repeating:

Wash your hands. It really is among the most effective ways to keep illness at bay. Help children learn how to wash their hands thoroughly – they can sing “Happy Birthday” or count to 20 while lathering with soap on both sides of hands, wrists and fingers – even around nails.

And wash often – before eating, after using the bathroom, blowing noses, even after riding in or pushing that shopping cart in the grocery store.

Hand sanitizer is great but isn’t effective in all circumstances. If hands are visibly dirty, they need to be washed. Certain viruses and some bacteria (like those stomach bugs) may not be wiped away either, so get scrubbing.

It’s nearly impossible to keep little ones’ hands out of their mouths or noses, but older kids – and even ourselves – can remember to keep hands off of our faces and away from our eyes, noses and mouths.

Cough or sneeze into your elbow. It’s as simple as that. MIT researchers have actually tested just how far the droplets in a cough or sneeze travel. The small droplets can travel across an entire room and get into ceiling vents, which carry them even further.

Get Vaccinated

“Flu vaccines help, no matter what,” Conway says. “The problem is that less than half of the people who should get the flu vaccine actually do.”

So who should get the seasonal flu vaccine? While the reality is nearly everyone should, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued a statement identifying some critical groups:

  • All children aged 6 months and older
  • Health care personnel
  • Children and teens with medical conditions that could increase the risk of complications from flu
  • Anyone in the household (parents, siblings, etc. including children under 5 and especially under 2 years of age) or child care providers who come into contact with high-risk children
  • Pregnant and breast feeding women
  • Individuals aged 65+ (grandma and grandpa need their vaccinations, too)

Pregnant women in particular are at a high risk of complications from the flu. The vaccine can be given at any time during pregnancy and offers protection for unborn children. The effects are also lasting – when a pregnant mom gets the vaccine, it protects infants during the first six months of life.

And if you’re disappointed about the absence of the nasal spray – as many parents with young kids who fear shots are – Conway explains that U.S. health officials have determined the seasonal flu shot offers the best possible protection for now. To help make this season a little less painful, consider these pain prevention techniques.

To schedule your family’s flu vaccine appointment, contact your child’s pediatrician and your primary care provider. If you are a UW Health patient using MyChart, you can also schedule an appointment via MyChart. UW Health pharmacists also administer seasonal flu vaccines for patients over 6 years of age at UW Health pharmacy locations for your family’s convenience.

And, if you unfortunately do fall ill this cold and flu season – there are ways you can tell the difference between a cold and flu . While antibiotics do not help in cases of the flu, Conway noted that there are treatments available for those in the high-risk group that can help minimize the severity of the virus. The key is to contact your child’s pediatrician or your primary care physician as soon as symptoms start.