Avoiding the Common Cold
Wash Those Germs Away!
Until there is a cure for it, or a vaccine to prevent it, rhinovirus (the common cold) will remain an annoying fact of life, particularly among young children. In fact, according to Dr. Shari Nethersole, a pediatrician at Boston's Children's Hospital, preschoolers get an average of six to ten viral illnesses per year.
Kids who spend time around other children get the most colds, and the majority of these illnesses occur during the winter months when children spend more time indoors. This doesn't mean we should stop sending our kids to school and day care, but we can try to limit their exposure to germs.
It is generally not necessary -- or worthwhile -- to isolate children with mild respiratory infections, including colds, if they feel comfortable, since the virus is contagious before the symptoms ever emerge. But having children avoid close contact with sick classmates, and instructing them in the proper use and disposal of tissues, are important steps toward prevention.
Because colds are spread through contact with nasal and mouth secretions, Nethersole says the best way to prevent the spread of these germs is to have children wash their hands regularly: before every meal, after sneezing or blowing their nose, after handling pets, and when coming in from playing outdoors. Of course, it's important that parents and teachers follow this advice, too. Studies show that many adults need to clean up their own act when it comes to hand-washing habits.
Toys and other surfaces with which children have close contact -- crib rails, food preparation areas, sinks, and diaper-changing areas -- should also be cleaned and disinfected regularly.
Eat Right, Get Enough Sleep, and Don't Smoke!
Children who are exposed to cigarette smoke also get more frequent colds. If there are smokers in your household, they should always smoke outside of the house (better yet, they should quit). It is also important that your child get enough sleep each night. Studies suggest that sleep deprivation increases susceptibility to colds.
People used to think that taking large doses of vitamin C could help prevent colds, but studies have shown otherwise. If your child has unusual dietary habits and could be lacking certain vitamins, then Nethersole says it would be reasonable to give him a supplement, but there is no known benefit to giving a healthy child extra doses of vitamins.
Recently, there have been claims that certain herbs may help prevent colds, but since these are still inconclusive, Nethersole and many other medical practitioners don't recommend this approach.
A Clean Offense is the Best Defense
Chances are the rhinovirus will rear its ugly head at your house this year, but there are ways to fight it and possibly reduce the number of times it gets through your door. Here's the most effective line of attack: Stock up on tissue, hand soap, and disinfectant; set a good example; and teach your kids to wash those germs away!
More on: Children's General Health