IT is next to impossible to protect children completely from infection but good health habits can go some way to preventing common colds and flu.
The flu virus spreads from person to person, mainly through coughing and sneezing. It is helpful to teach children ways to stop the spread of germs.
Children should always cover their noses and mouths with a tissue when sneezing or coughing and immediately dispose of the used paper. This should probably become a household-wide rule to ensure children learn best practice from older brothers and sisters, as well as from parents.
Consistent hand-washing is probably the most important habit to introduce to a child to ensure he or she is not spreading germs.
School-going children are even more susceptible to picking up infections. Germs can spread easily as classmates share everything from crayons and pencils to toys and lunches. Hand-washing will help narrow the chances of infection but children should also avoid touching their faces, especially their eyes, nose and mouth.
Vitamin supplements may also help stave off colds and flu. (Abidec drops for younger children, and KiddiPharmaton for older ones are both popular.)
Cold v flu
No matter how vigilant you and your child are, illness is not always preventable. When infections occur, it is handy to be able to tell the difference between a cold and the flu.
There are, of course, crossovers between the two – especially with various strains – but here are some differences to look out for:
Speed: A cold comes on slowly whereas flu attacks rapidly.
Temperature: Both colds and flu come with a high temperature, but a flu will see it rise within 24 hours and a cold will only affect the patient’s temperature after 24 hours. A baby or child with flu will have a temperature above 38°C.
Appetite: A child suffering from a common cold will have a near-normal appetite but flu will lessen it.
Fatigue: Colds make people tired whereas the flu completely exhausts the patient.
Headache: Headaches are common in both cold and flu sufferers but a cold will be accompanied by a slight headache and flu by a severe one.
Runny nose/sneezing: These symptoms are generally more prevalent in those suffering from a cold, as is a sore throat.
Muscle ache: Aches and pains are a common effect of the flu virus.
Vomiting/diarrhoea: Again, these symptoms are generally more prevalent in children suffering from the flu but they only happen in some cases.
Comfort and care
Often, children with the flu or a common cold can be treated effectively at home. It can be a difficult time, especially if it is a baby’s first sniffle, but there are some simple ways to comfort and care.
A trip to the local pharmacy can often equip the parent with enough information and medicine to mind and mend the baby or toddler.
Mark Beddis, superintendent pharmacist with Unicarepharmacy and DocMoris Pharmacy, explains that the pharmacy is a “good filter” as the pharmacist can determine if something more serious is going on.
“Everything is done on a case-bycase basis in the pharmacy,” he says. “Parents should visit the pharmacy first but the pharmacist will direct them to the doctor if the symptoms are potentially more serious.”
Beddis offers some helpful tips for caring for the young invalid.
There is little antibiotics can do for either colds or flu. Both are caused by viruses and such medicines are mostly ineffective.
He advises: “ We would always encourage parents to bring colds and flu problems to your pharmacy first. They are better off treating the symptoms, leaving the child more comfortable as their bodies fight the illness.”
Headaches and aches and pains can be treated with paracetemol-or ibuprofen-based medication, such as Nurofen for Children or Calpol.
For runny or blocked noses, Beddis says, “Karvol capsules are a traditional favourite decongestant but there are now saline drips made by Calpol which can be very useful.”
Where the child has experienced vomiting or diarrhoea, Dioralyte sachets can help replenish fluids lost due to dehydration.
Beddis also reminds parents that it is always helpful to have a thermometer in the household to check on fevers. If a trip to the GP is necessary, it is always a good idea to ring ahead first.
If your child is of school-going age and gets ill, keep him or her at home and away from other children for up to seven days.
Should you vaccinate?
There are vaccine injections available to help prevent strains of the influenza virus. It is recommended for any at-risk children but to explore the possibility more, parents should contact their family doctor.