Tips to help kids avoid colds and flu

October 11th, 2018

School’s been back in session for several weeks now, which means the kids have brought home homework – along with colds, flu, pink eye and impetigo!

That said, the medical community has three words for you: Wash Your Hands! So said Dr. Ian Tullberg, medical director for UCHealth Urgent Care clinics in Colorado Springs.

Yes, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes are fairly effective and some studies show that they can be used up to eight times before washing with soap and water becomes essential.

“They look cool, smell good and are convenient, but handwashing will always be the No. 1 way to stop the spread of illness,” he said. Washing with soap is very important and, he noted, it’s also important to clean under your fingernails and get the backs of your hands.”

How long should I wash my hands?

“Generally, you want to be able to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice, and be sure to scrub, because the rubbing together is one of the best ways we get our hands clean,” Tullberg said.

Kids should be made aware that things they touch – like door knobs and stair railings, are full of germs. But it’s not just public spaces they need to watch.

“A recent study showed that the dirtiest thing in the house may be your … cell phone. It is way worse than a toilet seat,” he said. “And we put it up to our mouths.”

Because kids use phones and tablets at school all the time, they should be trained to “wash your pens and pencils and clean your electronics” regularly, he said.

A photo of Dr. Ian tullberg
Dr. Ian Tullberg

Where to sneeze?

Another good trick to teach your kids is the sneeze-into-the-elbow technique, he said.

“Sneezing is a major way to spread illness,” Tullberg said. “Hands are nasty enough as it is and you don’t need to make them any nastier by sneezing into them.”

Also talk to your kids about not sharing food or drinks with other kids, he suggested. And, to a lesser extent, combs, brushes and make-up.

“You can spread things like lice,” he said, “and eye makeup is pretty bad to share.”

Sharing food and drinks “can spread things like mono, which can lead to a significant absence from school.”

If a child brings home an illness, is it possible to avoid spreading to rest of family? That can be tough, he acknowledged.

“Hand-washing is still the best way to avoid spreading it, and picking up some masks at your pharmacy, especially if the child is coughing or sneezing, also helps,” he said.

Tullberg gives masks to patients before they leave his office, if they want them.

If a child is ill, how soon is it safe for them to go back to school without spreading the illness?

“We generally look at four different things – fever, chills, vomiting and diarrhea. If you have any of those, you should not go to school for at least 24 hours after being symptom-free,” he said.

And it depends on how the child feels, too.

“What I tell people is, from a medical perspective, if the child doesn’t have any of those four symptoms but is still feeling miserable, then the parent has to make the call. Are they going to be productive at school? If not, then there’s no point in sending them.”

Just use common sense, he said.

About the author

Linda DuVal is a freelance writer based in Colorado Springs who writes articles for UCHealth.