This post is by regular contributor Naomi Cook.
I write this from voluntarily ‘isolation.’ It is almost a self imposed quarantine! I have taken my older child out of child care temporarily and am avoiding, on the whole, areas teeming with (cold ridden) kids such as playgrounds. Drastic measures! My youngest is a little immuno-compromised at the moment and when she does catch a simple virus she becomes extremely unwell. Our ‘isolation’ is temporary and we will soon be back in the playground but in the meantime here is a little on what we can do to help minimise the onslaught of winter colds.
The cold virus is mainly spread in the air through aerolised particles or droplets 5 when someone coughs, sneezes or gets too close when talking. Surfaces and clothing can also become contaminated by these particles. The cold virus is thought to be capable of living hours to even days on some surfaces. 8, 10
Stop the germs from getting in
Colds are a part of life and ultimately challenge the immune system, helping to create ‘immune memory’; this is part of building a stronger immunity. 4 However, when colds occur back to back (not mention the aftermath, for example on-going coughs, recurrent ear infections and so on) it may be helpful to employ tactics to help reduce the frequency of infections.
- Handwashing: Effective handwashing is the most important means of reducing infection spread. 7 Develop a rigorous handwashing regime especially before eating and as soon as you walk in the door after being outside the house. Never leave the house without an alcohol based sanitiser and when out and about get used to using it to clean hands periodically between activities.
- Technique: How you wash your hands determines how effective your handwash is. Try washing for a minimum of fifteen seconds with a good technique. 9 If using an alcohol based sanitiser remember to wait for it to dry (roughly 30 seconds) before touching food/face etc.
- Portal of Entry: If your child is old enough to understand teach them not to touch their faces when out and about. A virus can enter the body through the mouth, nose and eyes. 8 Get in the habit of not touching your own face (once you try to stop, you’ll realise how much you actually do it!)
- Germ Reservoirs: Be aware of where you may come into contact with the cold virus. Door handles, the button at the pedestrian crossing, money, 10 the lift button, rails on public transport, the supermarket trolley, punching your pin on the eftpos machine or the ATM, handling products in shops, the list could go on and on. Additional risky areas for children may include books at the library (why are they always slightly sticky?), toys at the toy shop and, of course, areas with communal toys and equipment such as playgrounds and playgroups.
- Immune Response: Boost your own and your children’s natural immunity through good sleep, adequate exercise and a nutritious diet (oh, if only this was as simple as it sounds!)
- Herbals: There are many herbal preparations on the market designed to reduce our chances of becoming unwell which also claim to reduce the duration of the illness. Fantastic! Even though you can buy many of these from your local pharmacy, think very carefully before giving something to your child without medical advice (or opinion).
- Stay away: If you can, do! From friends and relatives that have colds. Don’t be afraid to be direct and explain that you don’t want to expose your children to a new infection, this gets easier the more colds (and sleepless nights) you’ve been through!
- Keep outside: Play dates outside, for example a walk in the woods rather than in someone’s house may reduce contact with infective surfaces and are a good alternative when multiple cold viruses rage the community.
What can you do if your children have a cold?
It is worth remembering that just because a cold may appear to be mild to you or to your children, the very same virus may have a more dramatic effect on others. Individuals with immature or compromised immunity such as babies, 3, 4 pregnant women or children with medical conditions such as asthma 1,2, 3 may become much more unwell (a peep in the Emergency Department at midnight, mid-winter, gives you a fair idea of how much an asthmatic child with a cold can suffer).
In theory, colds are infectious for as long as symptoms remain but your child will be more infectious at the start of a cold. 6
- Teach your child ‘cough etiquette’ by putting their hands over their mouths (technically their hands should then be cleaned).
- Watch out for green noses! Be vigilant about wiping your children’s nose as it runs in public, this will minimise it dripping onto communal surfaces and will also reduce the chance of it coming onto your children’s hands (and subsequently onto communal surfaces).
- Wipe your children’s hands clean before entering a public place.
- Before a play date, warn your friends that your children have a viral infection and give them the choice as to whether or not they want to postpone meeting.
- If your child has a fever don’t take them to child care as they need to rest. If it is a mild cold check to see if the centre is happy for your child to be there.
- Think about cutting back on or even cutting out activities for the duration of the cold, young children don’t know they need rest and may happily go to the park for a run around, especially after a dose of paracetamol (they, and you, will reap the consequences later). And once again, this will reduce infection spread in the community.
- Dream of better, healthier, days to come!
And so winter, for us, is cold and very quiet. I am enjoying weeks uninterrupted by swimming lessons, trips to child care and back and am valuing such precious one on one time with my children. Nevertheless, I hope that your measures of infection control needn’t be so drastic and that your winters are not as secluded as mine!
How do your children fare with blocked and runny noses in winter? Who’s had the most colds in your family so far?
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article should NEVER be used as a substitute for the advice of a licensed physician. The information provided here is for educational and informational purposes only. In no way should it be considered as offering medical advice. Please see a physician if you think you or your child are unwell. This author has no competing interests.
- El-Sahly H, Atmar R, Glezen W, Greenberg S, (2000) Spectrum of Clinical Illness in Hospitalized Patients with “Common Cold” Virus Infections Clinical Infectious Diseases 31:96-100
- Green Rm Custovic A, Sanderson G, Hunter J, Johnston S, Woodcock A (2002) Synergism between allergens and viruses and risk of hospital admission with asthma: casecontrol study British Medical Journal 324:7340 pp1-5
- Greenberg S, (2002) Respiratory Viral Infections in Adult Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine 8:3 pp201-208
- Huether S, McCance K (2004) Understanding Pathophysiology 3rd Edition, Mobsy
- Kumar P, Clark M (2005) Clinical Medicine, Elsevier Limited London
- NSW Health
- Mayo Clinic
- Thomas Y, Vogel G, Wunderli W, Suter P, Witschi M, Koch D, Tapparel C, Kaiser L (2008) Survival of Influenza Virus on Banknotes Applied and Environmental Microbiology 74:10 pp3002-3007