Everyone, by now, has surely heard of the H1N1 flu and all the dangers associated with it. But, in recent news, we have also heard of the potential shortage of the H1N1 vaccine, and the scramble to make it available to all. So, what if the vaccine is not available for your child this year? Or, what if it is, but you religiously or philosophically believe that the vaccine will do more harm to your child than the good it would potentially do in preventing H1N1? Is there any other way to prevent your child from coming down with H1N1 flu this year? Even if the vaccine is effective or the H1N1 is not as bad as predicted, there are countless other flus, diseases and viruses that are already attacking children across the country. With the start of school, many children are already complaining of colds or stomach viruses. Airborne illnesses are perhaps a bit trickier to prevent than surface-borne ones. And, while no one can guarantee 100% that your child will not get sick - not even the drug companies with their touted vaccine claiming100% protection to all - there are common-sense steps you can take to try to stay healthy every day of the year, not just during flu season.
First - We've all heard it said to wash your hands! But, it's true. Many diseases would be completely avoided if we would simply wash our hands. In children, the important thing is to teach proper handwashing. Simply rinsing their hands under running water for a splash will not do the trick. The fun way to teach children to wash their hands is to turn on the water to a comfortable temperature, place child's hands under the running water and begin to sing. Sing Happy Birthday, or change the words to the same tune: "We are wash-ing our hands - We are wash-ing our hands - We are wash-ing our hands now! So, we won't get the flu!" - You choose your own words, but take that amount of time to soap up your child's hands and rinse them well. Then, dry them off on a clean towel. If you are in a public restroom, take a paper towel (if it's provided instead of those blow dryers) and dry your hands with it. Then, grab another paper towel to open the door with when you leave. This way, your child's hands will not touch a germy door handle directly after washing off the germs. Once you are outside of the restroom, find a trashcan & discard the paper towel. While this might not be 100% environmentally friendly, you and your child will avoid countless numbers of germs.
Second - Avoid contact with surfaces and germ-infested environments. Telling a parent of an active, healthy child to simply have that child not touch anything in public is like asking them to hold onto jello. Children will touch surfaces wherever they go. So, do your best to make sure the things they touch are as clean as you can make them. One easy way to do this is to carry disinfectant wipes with you. When you go to the grocery store, wipe down the inside of the "car carts" that your child will want to ride in. Or, if they are older and no longer fit inside those fun carts, wipe down the handle of the cart you are pushing. If you are at a restaurant, wipe down the table before you sit down. Also, don't forget to wipe the chair that the child is sitting on and directly under their side of the table as well, since most children will wiggle and explore. Don't be afraid of the raised eyebrows when others see you wiping down the tables, etc. Chances are most looks will be those of respect wishing they had thought to be preventative as well.
Avoid germ infested environments - While you don't want to say "no" to every birthday party invitation, sports games, dance lessons, etc., be conscious that the H1N1 is out there along with many other viruses and diseases--and be selective in where you choose to expose your child. When we think of germ-infested places, we often think of hospitals and doctors' waiting rooms, which no doubt do have all kinds of germs flying around. But one of the most nasty, germ-infested environments is a playground. While you might not want to avoid the playground altogether, and if your child is at school or daycare all day, they will not avoid the playground, make sure your child's hands are washed when they leave these types of places.
Third - Make sure your child's immune system is built-up and healthy. There is no more important time than the flu season to make sure your child has proper nutrition and vitamin supplements to help boost their immune systems. If their immune systems are working well, they may avoid H1N1 and many other diseases all together. Try to offer healthy meals and snacks, and check with your doctor or nutrition store for advice on what vitamins or supplements are available to boost their immune system. You might want to cut short those visits to fast food restaurants as well, since germs can be spread through food preparers and restaurant environments.
If your child is at school or daycare all day, ask what their policies are and what measures they are taking to ensure the health of your child. Do they have hand sanitizer readily available to the children? Is handwashing or the use of hand sanitizer enforced, or is it just available to those children who might happen to think to use it? If it's a daycare, ask how often the toys are disinfected. Some state laws only require a weekly bleaching, depending upon the age of the children playing with the toys. Don't be afraid to ask about their policies.
If your child is already sick with a cough, make sure they cough properly. That is, cough into the bend of your elbow. This avoids using hands to catch the germs and then picking up a pencil and sharing it with another child or turning around to play on the monkey bars, etc. If the cough goes into the elbow bend of the arm, it is less likely to be spread further from surface to surface.
Mostly, use common sense. Don't be afraid to take preventative measures to protect your children. You'll probably end up being happy you're not cleaning up after a sick child or spending your paycheck on tissues to wipe noses all fall/winter/spring if you do.