By Sarah Guinn
JOPLIN, Mo. —
The common contact kids have with each other on the playground and in the classroom make them susceptible to germs, which can lead to them getting flu and missing class. Nurse practitioner Judith Russell says flu vaccines are the best precaution parents can take to ensure kids stay healthy through the school year.
Hand-to-mouth contact is the main way kids contract illnesses, Russell said. This common contact between the hands and the mouth means kids can easily catch the flu bug. But flu epidemics are less likely to occur if most of the population is vaccinated, she said.
Russell gave additional dos and don’ts for parents so kids won’t have to stay home sick throughout this school year:
• Good handwashing is essential. Because the flu spreads through hand-to-mouth contact, good handwashing with soap and warm water is important, Russell said.
Kids should wash their hands before eating food, after sneezing or coughing and after using the bathroom, according to guidelines posted by the Centers for Disease Control.
The CDC recommends lathering the hands well with soap and scrubbing the backs of the hands, between the fingers and under the nails for at least 20 seconds.
Hand sanitizer in the classroom certainly doesn’t hurt. It’s helpful for keeping hands clean and germs away, she said.
But frequent handwashing with soap and water is best to prevent kids from catching the flu and infecting others.
• Don’t be lulled by vitamins. They usually aren’t necessary because kids take in the amount they need through their diet, Russell said.
“It won’t hurt them,” she said. “But usually, they’re unnecessary and gives us a false sense of security that we’re actually helping them.”
Most kids don’t have vitamin deficiencies and taking extra Vitamin C, for example, is eliminated through the body with other waste because it can only use so much of that vitamin, Russell said.
• Eight hours of sleep goes a long way. “The body needs time to rest, and the only time it can rest well is when it’s asleep,” she said.
Sleep allows the body to “recharge” and gain the energy needed for the next day, she said.
The energy kids build while they’re asleep is needed to combat illnesses. A mild cold could become something more debilitating without the proper amount of energy the body needs to fight off infections, Russell said.
The CDC recommends children who are 5 to 10 years old get 10 to 11 hours of sleep each night, and 8 to 9 hours for kids ages 11 to 17.
The flu vaccine is available through pediatricians, the health department and at stores such as Walmart and Walgreens, Russell said.
This time of the year through October is the best time to get the flu vaccine, she said, because it will have time to build immunity and keep kids free of illnesses through the flu season.
Vaccinations done in October typically last through the winter months and are “very effective” at keeping the flu away, she said.
Even with the vaccine, experts say parents need to make sure their children are practicing good health habits.
“A healthy diet, eight hours of sleep and staying hydrated,” she said. “If we do most of those things, our kids will probably do very well and not have a lot of illnesses throughout the winter.”