You’ve no doubt heard about the increasing spread of two potentially deadly illnesses: coronavirus and the flu. And if you’re a parent, you’re probably wondering how to protect your child from these conditions.
Coronaviruses frequently cause colds and infections of the respiratory tract. Globally, almost 2,800 people have died from the newest coronavirus, known as COVID-19, but only a few children have been confirmed to be infected thus far. By contrast, this year’s flu epidemic has already claimed the lives of 32 children between October 2019 and January 2020, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Infection by the newest coronavirus and the flu virus can be prevented by similar measures. Here are eight ways to reduce the spread of these viruses among children.
1. Get Children Vaccinated
You may be wary of having any vaccine administered to your child. You should know that on average, approximately 75% of children who die from influenza did not get the flu shot. You can still get your child vaccinated now if they haven’t had the shot. Check with your pediatrician or local pharmacy to see if they have the vaccine on hand. The CDC has a vaccine finder tool to help you locate pharmacies near you that have supplies of the flu shot. Be aware that some states prohibit vaccines from being administered to children in pharmacies. Your area health department or your doctor can tell you if your state allows them.
The flu shot won’t prevent all children from getting influenza — but if they are infected, the shot lowers the risk of developing complications that require hospital admission. That said, there is currently no vaccine for coronavirus. The U.S. controls more than 45% of the world’s pharmaceutical market, so it seems that one should be imminent. We’ve created flu shots that are relatively effective, but we have yet to even develop an accurate test to detect coronavirus. While a flu vaccine won’t keep your child from developing other conditions, you’ll need to protect them as best you can with the measures we have in place.
2. Bolster Your Child’s Immune System
If your child has a strong immune system, they will be better able to fight off the flu and coronavirus. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains strengthens a child’s defenses against viral infections, as does at least one hour of daily exercise and 10 hours of sleep for school-age kids. About 19.6% of millennials play water sports, but many children don’t get enough exercise, which negatively affects their immunity. Make sure your family adopts a healthy diet that emphasizes vitamin-rich foods and that you prioritize regular exercise and adequate rest.
3. Wash Hands Frequently
Frequent hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and the flu virus. Parents need to model proper hand washing so that children see how it should be done. If kids see their parents wash thoroughly and frequently, they’ll want to imitate the behavior. It’s important to wash with warm water and soap, rubbing palms and between the fingers, for 20 seconds. You can instruct your child to wash for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” or the alphabet song. The water should be lukewarm for kids so that they won’t be scared of being scalded.
If you’re not near a sink with running water, use hand sanitizer, covering the entire hand and between fingers. Keep in mind that because hand sanitizer is an anti-bacterial, it won’t kill the germs associated with viruses (like coronavirus and influenza). However, it’s better than nothing at all. It’s especially important for you and your child to wash hands before eating, after passing through public areas, and after getting close to anyone who might be sick.
4. Teach Kids About Coughing and Touching Etiquette
You’ll need to remind your child to cough or sneeze into their elbow. Explain that this prevents germs from sticking to their hands and then to whatever they touch. Tell your child they should not touch their faces, particularly their eyes, noses, or mouths unless their hands are freshly washed. Make sure you have tissues ready at all times and discard used tissues immediately.
5. Disinfect Surfaces
Flu viruses can survive as long as eight hours on surfaces. Reduce the number of germs on toys, phones, doorknobs, kitchen counters and tables, TV remotes, and other items that are frequently handled by washing them with a cleaner that fights the flu virus or hot water with soap. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can provide a list of disinfectants that combat the flu virus.
Schools also need to disinfect common surfaces. The school food industry is bigger than the largest restaurant chains in the U.S., serving 4.9 billion lunches every year. Make sure that the school is doing is part to disinfect lunch tables, desks, gym and playground equipment, and other shared areas on a regular basis. You may want to send your child to school with a portable pack of disinfecting wipes and instruct them to wipe down these areas prior to using them and after they’re done.
6. Teach Kids Not to Share Food and Drinks
Normally, sharing is a good thing — but not when it comes to infectious diseases. Kids love to trade snacks and share juice boxes at lunchtime. Tell your child that while sharing is a good thing in many cases, sharing germs is not a nice thing to do to a classmate. Explain that when they take a bite of food or a sip from a straw, any germs in their mouths might spread to the food or drink and the germs can be passed along to their friends. In this case, make sure that your child knows to hang onto their own snacks, lunches, and drinks after they’ve opened them.
7. Stay Away From Sick People
It’s not possible to completely protect your child from anyone who might be carrying contagious germs. People with coronavirus can spread the illness before they know they are infected. You probably don’t need to keep your healthy child out of school or daycare, as your family still needs to be able to have some semblance of normalcy. Be on the lookout for anyone exhibiting symptoms of viral infection, including frequent coughing and sneezing and keep your child away from them if possible. Be especially careful when on public transportation or crowded areas like restaurants and shopping malls. Unless it’s a true emergency, stay out of hospitals and urgent care centers, too.
8. Don’t Send a Sick Child to School
If your child exhibits symptoms that could indicate a flu or coronavirus infection, keep them home from school to prevent them from potentially spreading a virus to other kids. Fever and frequent coughing and sneezing are far more likely to be the result of the flu than of coronavirus, but you don’t want to take the chance of passing along either virus. Before bringing your child in to see a healthcare provider, call first and explain their symptoms to ensure the facility is equipped for the visit and learn what they might recommend.
Despite the scary headlines, you can reduce your child’s risk of contracting coronavirus or the flu virus with the same preventative measures. Simple practices like hand washing and disinfecting surfaces can help keep children healthy.