Here are 7 ways to keep your family healthy during cold and flu season.
Wash your hands!
When you keep your hands clean, viruses lose one of their favorite ways to travel. Teach your family to wash their hands after using the bathroom, before and after eating, and after coughing or sneezing. Use soap and warm water, and wash for 15 to 20 seconds — long enough to sing two rounds of “Happy Birthday.” Make sure anyone who takes care of your child knows to wash up often, too.
Tip: Keep alcohol-based hand gel in the car and in your purse for cleanup on the go. And use the wipes provided at the supermarket to swipe the cart handle before shopping.
Cold and flu viruses can live on surfaces for as long as three hours — so consider washing counters and tabletops with a virus-killing disinfectant or a bleach-and-water solution (1/4 cup bleach in a gallon of water), especially if someone in the house is already sick. Wipe the light switches, telephones, doorknobs, keyboards, and other things that family members share, too. Wash cups and eating utensils well with soap and hot water between uses. Don’t share!
Tip: You can find easy and inexpensive recipes for homemade cleaning solutions online or in books. Ingredients like vinegar, tea tree oil, and borax aren’t as strong as bleach and some commercial disinfectants, but they’re generally safer and still effective.
4 tips during cold and flu season
Get flu vaccinations.
Your whole family needs protection from the viruses that make the rounds during flu season, from school and daycare to home to work and back again. The CDC recommends that almost all children (starting at 6 months) and adults get the flu vaccine every year, preferably by the end of October — the earlier the better.
Tip: If you’re pregnant, you can and should get a flu shot. See how the flu shot you get during pregnancy can even protect your newborn baby later.
Ban secondhand smoke.
Secondhand smoke puts children at higher risk for upper respiratory problems. Kids who live with cigarette smokers have more colds, and their colds last longer than those of children who aren’t exposed to smoke. Be aware of secondhand smoke in other environments as well, such as when you’re visiting friends or relatives.
Tip: Read about some surprising ways that secondhand smoke affects young children.
Contain coughs and sneezes.
To avoid spreading germs, teach your children to sneeze or cough into the crook of his arm. The next best method is to use a disposable tissue. If they sneeze into a tissue (or into bare hands), they’ll need to wash their hands promptly afterward.
Tip: For a lesson on the best way to sneeze, watch this 30-second kid-friendly Elmo video with your child — it’s produced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Protect your kids by avoiding close contact with people who have a cold or the flu. If your child’s best friend is sniffling and sneezing, it isn’t a good time for a sleepover.
Tip: Avoiding exposure goes both ways. Try to keep your kids home when they’re sick, and stay home when you’re ill.
Build a healthy body.
A healthy immune system depends on a healthy body, and an immune system that’s in good shape is better equipped to fight off viruses. If you’re breastfeeding, keep it up as long as you can. (Get advice about breastfeeding when you, or your baby, have the flu.) The antibodies in breast milk can protect against a host of germs. Feed your older children a balanced diet, and encourage them to exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep.
Tip: If your child gets frequent colds despite your best efforts, don’t despair. Perfectly healthy people catch colds all the time — so getting sick isn’t necessarily a sign of a weak immune system. Learn the truth about this and a dozen other cold and flu myths. And, when illness strikes, find an alternative to medicine with 11 safe home remedies to soothe your child’s colds and flu.