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Protect children from winter colds

By Bonnie Coblentz

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Adults can protect themselves from winter colds and flu by helping children learn good hygiene practices and keeping their play areas clean.

A flu shot is a smart, preventative measure, and is recommended for children less than 2 years old, senior adults and those with compromised immune systems. The best time to get a flu shot has already passed this year, but everyone can take precautions to avoid this virus and other sicknesses.

Jane Clary, health specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said most parents catch the flu from their children.

“Day-care facilities, playgrounds and schools are breeding grounds for germs carrying colds and the flu virus,” Clary said. “It is extremely important to teach children to cover their noses and mouths when they cough or sneeze, especially during cold and flu season.”

The airborne flu virus causes an acute respiratory infection with symptoms of fever, aches, chills, weakness, loss of appetite, and aching of the head, back, arms and legs. In addition, a sore throat and dry cough, nausea and burning eyes may accompany the virus.

Clary said day-care facilities and child-care providers should clean counter tops, toys and any other objects that children come in contact with on a regular basis.

“Remind children to wash their hands with soap and water to kill any germs that could spread the flu virus,” Clary said. “Antibacterial hand sanitizers are also effective germ killers if water isn't accessible.”

When a child develops a high fever with other flu-like symptoms, it is a good indication that the virus has reached a contagious state, Clary said. Flu victims are able to infect others one day before their symptoms begin and up to five days after becoming ill.

“It's not a good idea to send children to school when they are showing symptoms, especially a fever,” Clary said. “The flu is viral, not bacterial, and many people mistakenly think an antibiotic will cure it. Getting rest and drinking water are important for recovering from a cold or flu. Consult a doctor as soon as symptoms occur for medicines that may reduce the symptoms.”

Ann Twiner, Extension area health agent in Sunflower County, said frequent hand washing is a key to staying healthy in the winter.

“Proper and frequent hand washing will help you stay healthy in the winter,” Twiner said. “Keep your hands away from your face, as germs can enter through the nose, eyes and mouth.”

She recommended periodically wiping door handles, telephones and other frequently touched items with disinfectant cloths, as these surfaces can transfer germs from one person to another.

Eat healthy foods, consume adequate fruits and vegetables and exercise, as this boosts the immune system. Get plenty of sleep and minimize stress if possible, as this wears the body down, making it more susceptible to illnesses.

“The healthier you can keep your body, the better it can fight off sicknesses you may be exposed to,” Twiner said.

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Released: December 1, 2005
Contact: Dr. Jane Clary, (662) 325-5014

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