The common cold and flu bug are two of the most widespread viruses families have to deal with. With no real cure for the common cold, it seems most of us are at the mercy of our immune systems when these bugs hit us. While antiviral therapy is available for influenza, vaccination is critical for working with your immune system to help lessen disease. Believe it or not, a number of steps can help your kids and your family fight these bugs naturally everyday, and most of these recommendations match recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Especially for the youngest and most vulnerable, we recommend creating what’s known as a “cocoon effect.” Babies are born with an immune system that isn’t as robust as an older child’s, though they do receive a healthy supply of maternal antibodies before birth. However, with time those antibodies will wane. Breast-feeding infants helps boost their ability to fight infections to some extent and is encouraged whenever possible. Infants don’t receive their first vaccines, other than the hepatitis b vaccine, until they’re two months old, and infants can’t receive their influenza vaccine until six months of age. To protect defenseless infants from the effects of these bugs, it’s critical that close caregivers, parents, grandparents, and other people who are regularly around the baby are vaccinated themselves. In addition to the flu vaccine, adults and older siblings should get the pertussis vaccine as well as other recommended vaccines.
As children get older, getting their vaccinations on time is one of the best ways to strengthen their ability to fight infections. The vaccines trigger an immune response in the children that can then be much more rapid and effective when they’re faced with the natural infection. This time of year, flu vaccinations are especially important for infants six months and older, all children and adults.
Staying hydrated is more than just an exercise fad. In America we’re fortunate that safe, clean drinking water isn’t an issue. Drinking enough water everyday is an important part of staying healthy for all of us—kids and adults alike!
Good health habits can and should be instilled in children from a very young age, including regularly washing their hands. It’s a small and simple way to fight common bugs like the cold and flu, but it’s important to teach kids to wash their hands after they use the restroom and before they eat.
We often speak of the 5-2-1-Almost None campaign as we work with families in our office. That includes five fruits and vegetables a day, two hours or less of screen time a day, one hour or more of physical activity a day, and almost “none” sugared beverages a day. This is a good diet for adults too. Excellent resources at choosemyplate.gov can help you learn more about helping your family eat a simple and healthy diet, along with fun activities for kids. With your diet, it’s important to note that the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t routinely recommend multivitamins for children who have a healthy varied diet.
Simply knowing how to eat healthy isn’t enough — getting enough food is important too. In Utah, 13 percent of families have food insecurity, and according to childrenshealthwatch.org, “hungry children are sick more often and are more likely to be hospitalized.” Resources such as the United Way’s information and referral database — which is available by calling 211 — can help people who are chronically hungry.
Finally, getting enough rest can’t be overstated as a healthy way to fight common, everyday illnesses like the cold and flu. Our bodies heal while we sleep, which makes us stronger to stave off sicknesses. For little kids, around 5 years old, 11 hours per night is ideal. While older kids may not need quite as much sleep, the bigger challenge is finding the time—especially for busy teens. A good night’s sleep is a great way to stay healthy.
In summary, doing what you already know to do well to live healthy can be some of the most effective ways to fight illnesses. Eat healthy, vaccinate yourelves and your children, exercise, drink plenty of fluids, and get enough rest. It may sound simple, but these basic recommendations, which you may learned from your grandmother, are some of the best ways to be healthy during cold and flu season.