Kids' Wintertime Health


As the winter months approach, so does a rise in illness. The cold weather can force many to stay inside for longer periods and this can breed an ideal environment for bacteria or viruses, which are spread in much the same way, to flourish.

“We tend to see things that can spread easily when people are in close contact,” says Marie Kairys, MD, a family medicine physician at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. “Respiratory things like flu, cold and strep throat.”

Michelle Karten, MD, a pediatrician at Nemours duPont Pediatrics in Villanova, PA, doesn’t recommend giving children cold medicine.

Rather, Dr. Karten suggests alleviating children’s symptoms through means such as nasal saline treatments to help unclog a stuffy nose or use of a humidifier to help loosen mucus. For babies less than one year old, it can be difficult, but she recommends using a bulb syringe to extract some of the nose secretions.

Stop the spread

If someone in your household becomes ill, try limiting where they can go to prevent further spreading of the contagion. Be sure to allow children time to recover.

“We generally use, as a rule of thumb, that children should be out of school for a full 24 hours once the fever has gone away,” advises Dr. Karten.

Don’t send a child back to school too early; the child can spread the illness to other kids or make his or her own sickness worse.

“Clean frequently touched surfaces like door handles and faucets,” says David Bruner, MD, a pediatrician at Children’s Regional Hospital at Cooper University Health Care in Camden, NJ.

Dr. Bruner says that hand sanitizers can be an effective way to get rid of the majority of bacteria from your hands and that medical professionals often use sanitizers in a hospital setting.

Don’t stress, stay active

Taking care of yourself, physically and mentally, is also important.

“Kids have higher stress levels because of school and that can have an effect on their immune system,” Dr. Kairys says. She recommends a good night’s sleep and staying active.

As appealing as it may be to imitate a bear in the winter and be lazy, don’t use the cold as an excuse to live a sedentary lifestyle.

“I like to say, ‘10 minutes of activity is like an hour of calm,’” says Dr. Kairys. “Being physically active can keep stress levels down.”

Getting a flu vaccine is an effective prevention strategy as well. Vaccines for the flu become available in September. Infants and the elderly are most susceptible to influenza, but anyone can catch it.

“The flu often hits at the end of December, start of January,” says Dr. Kairys. “You should allow two weeks for your body to take hold of the shot and antibodies to build.”

Lead by example

Help kids learn good habits. Teach them that washing their hands well and covering sneezes or coughs with the crook of their arm are ways to help prevent the spread of illnesses.

“Be consistent with what you tell [children] to do,” says Dr. Bruner. “The more likely you are consistent, the more likely they adopt it. Kids learn like we learn, by repetition.”


Chris Linvill is a Temple University student and a MetroKids intern.


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