Colds and flus have become synonymous with the holiday season. Once the kids are back in school, noses start to sniffle and throats begin to tickle. Getting sick is unavoidable, or is it? In a sea of crumpled Kleenexes and cough-drop wrappers, is there hope for a germ-free season? Some local experts gave their best advice on prevention, vaccinations and isolation.
“The body’s immune system is complex,” explained Dr. Kathleen Domm, a pediatrician at Coastal Pediatrics. “While we really can’t control our immune response, there are things we can do to help our bodies continue to function well in general.” She listed these “principles of healthy living” as: getting adequate sleep, eating a variety of nutritious foods, exercising regularly and minimizing stress. And, of course, what doctor will not tell you to wash your hands?
“Germs spread so quickly with kids,” cautioned Kelly Scharling, RN, school nurse at James B. Edwards Elementary School. She stressed that as parents discuss how important handwashing is, they should include when and how to clean them properly. “Wash before meals, before and after using the restroom and after coming in from outside. Kids will usually just hold their hands under running water. Show them how to rub them together to create that friction that cleans them.” While she prefers kids to sneeze and cough into an elbow, she acknowledged that sometimes it happens into their hands and afterwards their hands need to be cleaned immediately.
Elizabeth Wilson, RN, BSN, school nurse at Moultrie Middle School, concurred that practicing good hand hygiene, good nutrition and staying active are great ways for parents to model healthy habits. “Encourage kids to stay hydrated with a water bottle at school. Give them hand sanitizer to keep in their lunch box or locker to use prior to eating. Parents can be prepared too. Keep alcohol-based hand rub, tissues and wipes readily available in the car or sports bag to keep hands clean before snacking.” At school, Wilson added that classrooms and areas that have a high incidence of the flu virus are treated during non-school hours. “Teachers are also encouraged to wipe down desks and ensure hand-washing.”
“Since it takes approximately two weeks for antibodies to develop after the vaccination, you want to get the flu shot before the virus starts spreading in your community,” pointed out Domm. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends flu shots by the end of October.” Because flu strains change each year, it is possible that the vaccination will not completely prevent you from getting sick, but, as Scharling insisted, “it will protect you and your children at least from the severity of flu symptoms and has proven effective in decreasing the number of flu cases each year.” Wilson added that flu clinics are set up at school every year, and all staff members are encouraged to get them in October.
Most people can get an annual flu vaccine. If you have any questions about getting one for you or your family members, consult a physician or healthcare provider. According to Domm, those who have had a severe, life-threatening reaction to the flu vaccine or one of its ingredients should not get the flu shot. Additionally, anyone who has a history of either Guillain-Barre Syndrome or severe egg allergy should talk to a physician about flu vaccination.
“One of the most effective ways to keep kids in school healthy is for parents to follow the 24-hour rule,” said Scharling. “Your child needs to be fever-free without vomiting or using fever-reducing medications for 24 hours. This ensures they are no longer contagious.” She also recommended that if family members are sick, they should rest in their own room to help prevent getting anyone else ill.
“In general, if children are not feeling well enough to participate in daily school activities, then they need to stay home,” advised Domm. She recommended that parents go to scdhec.gov/health/child-teen-health/school-exclusion to learn more about when to keep a child out of school.
By Pamela Jouan