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Each year as students head back to school, parents prepare for the risk of sniffles and sneezes and do what they can to prioritize their children’s health. This year, however, parents will be tasked with protecting their kids from COVID-19 in addition to the common cold and flu.
General wellness should always be a focus for students of all ages, whether they are learning at home or in the classroom. The best way to keep your family healthy is through teaching children preventative healthcare habits.
“It’s essential for families to focus their attention to building and maintaining strong immune systems in order to battle all illnesses that will be prevalent this fall and winter,” said Dr. Linda Couillard, pediatrician at Memorial Regional Health.
Get a flu shot
Dr. Couillard and other national healthcare experts are stressing the importance of the flu shot this fall and winter. While the flu isn’t as deadly or transmissible as COVID-19, it causes nearly 500,000 hospitalizations and 35,000 deaths annually, according to most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Flu season typically hits in October and lasts through spring. The flu vaccine is available as early as September and is recommended for those aged 6 months and older.
Even if your child has not gotten a flu shot in the past, Dr. Couillard said it will be especially important to do so this year, in order to best protect them from at least one illness and to prevent the local healthcare system from getting too overwhelmed with patients.
“If we can prevent the flu or the severity of it with a vaccine and keep those individuals from needing emergency room care, we can focus our attention to patients with COVID-19 or other diseases with no vaccine,” Dr. Couillard explained.
While the flu vaccine does not offer children or adults 100 percent protection against the virus, it can lessen symptoms and help decrease hospitalizations.
Other prevention methods
Germs are everywhere, especially in schools. The CDC warns that you can get sick by touching a surface and then touching your face.
Washing your hands with soap and water is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick. Hand sanitizers are not as effective, so when they are the only option, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
Wearing a face covering when in public is also critical. COVID-19 can be spread through the air, primarily through droplets that occur when someone with the virus sneezes, coughs, sings or talks, according to the World Health Organization. Colorado’s mask mandate requires those 11 and older to wear a face covering while in public. Face masks should never be worn by children under the age of 2.
Other prevention methods to reduce the risk of illness include:
- Eating a healthy, nutritious diet
- Getting adequate sleep
- Getting at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day
- Taking care of mental and emotional health
“Focusing on wellness is critical,” Dr. Couillard said. “Ensure children are up to date on their annual physical exams with their primary care provider as well as their routine childhood vaccines.”
Since the cold, flu and COVID-19 have similar symptoms — fever, cough, aches and fatigue — it can be difficult to tell with which your child is ill.
If you suspect your child might have COVID-19, don’t panic. Isolate your child at home, and call your primary care provider to determine if testing is appropriate. From there, she said they can provide additional advice and guide you through next steps.