Keeping your kids healthy at school and daycare is no mean feat over the winter months. But there are some things you (and your daycare) can do to minimise the likelihood of catching anything nasty, as well as clever ways to boost the family’s immune system beforehand.
The how of colds and flu:
Our bodies are miraculous things. When exposed to a virus, our natural defence system kicks in and gangs up on the bug. Not only does it kill the infection currently trying to multiply in the body, it also primes our response should we get infected in the future. That’s why it’s so important to fuel our body with nutrients that strengthen our immune system, boosting it to do the job it was designed to do.
Colds and flu spread chiefly from mouth and nose, either directly to another person, or to an object the other person might touch. Good hygiene will protect our immune system from overloading.
1. Teach your child to wash their hands often – you never know whether that toy or door handle has some other kid’s sneeze on it.
2. Keep the inside environment warm. Research indicates that viruses spread more easily in colder temperatures.
3. Ask the teachers to ensure your child keeps up their fluid intake during the day and that they stay dressed in warm clothing, especially if playing outside.
4. At home, disinfecting household surfaces will help contain the contagion. Throw plastic toys in the dishwasher and soft toys in the washing machine. Ask your daycare/preschool how often they wash their toys.
5. Keep the children at home when they’re sick. Even if they don’t stay in bed all day, rest and warmth will help them fight the bug.
6. Disposable tissues are more hygienic than handkerchiefs. Throw them away in a closed bin to prevent the germs from spreading.
7. Teach your child to cover their face when coughing and sneezing – preferably with a tissue or the crook of their arm. If they use their hand, teach them to wash it as soon as possible.
8. Flu jabs are recommended and make sure your child is up-to-date with other immunisations and boosters. There is still an epidemic of whooping cough, so on-time immunisations for infants (6 weeks, 3 & 5 months), plus boosters (at 4 and 11 years) is the best prevention.
9. Colds and flu are caused by viruses. Antibiotics won’t help unless your child develops a bacterial infection in their throat, bronchia, or lungs.
Easy extras in your diet:
Although there is no definitive evidence that vitamin C will stop you getting a cold, it does boost your immune system. Natural vitamin C is a challenge to find in winter. Apples and kiwifruit are both good choices. Brussels sprouts are an excellent source of winter vitamin C, but if your children aren’t yet keen, try savoy cabbage, kale, red cabbage, and purple sprouting broccoli. Don’t forget onions, garlic, beets, carrots, celeriac, parsnip, potato, kumara and winter squash. Stir-frying, steaming, and microwaving best preserve vitamin C.
This super-fish supplies your body with vitamin D, which keeps immune cells functioning. The protein, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants support the immune system, while the zinc activates the T cells that attack the virus. Research favours wild salmon (smoked or tinned) over farmed salmon because of the quality of the omega-3s. Add it to sandwiches or salads, or roast fresh salmon for dinner.
Oats contain vitamins thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, B6, folate, E and K – all essential in building up your ability to fight off infections. They are also high in antioxidants. Delicious as porridge, or in smoothies, cakes, cookies, and apple pie toppings.
Yoghurt contains “good” bacteria that protect you against disease. Eat it as a snack, or add it to soups, mash, smoothies and pancake batter. Serve it on the side with pancakes and desserts, too.
Packed with vitamin E and manganese, almonds aid the immune system cells in their initial attack on the virus. Have them in cereal, yogurt, salads or as a snack.
White button mushrooms
These veges have antiviral compounds. Pastas, soups, and casseroles are a good way of hiding mushrooms from a picky toddler.
Beans are a source of protein and zinc, and may help reduce upper respiratory infections. Puree the beans before you add them to soups and mince dishes, and the kids won’t notice.
Signs and symptoms
Fever and chills, sore throat, dry cough, headache, fatigue and body aches. Influenza may also lead to more serious complications like pneumonia. The worst symptoms usually last about five days, but coughing can continue for two to three weeks.
What to do?
While your child is unwell, keep them away from school/preschool and make sure they have plenty of rest and fluids. If your child becomes drowsy or non-responsive, or if their breathing becomes fast and noisy, then seek medical advice immediately.
Influenza immunisation is recommended for children (and pregnant mums) and is free for children under-4 years with respiratory illness history, or any child with an ongoing medical condition. More info at: www.fightflu.co.nz.
Signs and symptoms
Sore throats, runny or blocked noses, watery eyes and sneezing, or coughs can last one to two weeks.
What to do?
As there is no cure, it comes down to alleviating symptoms, but please note many over-the-counter cough and cold remedies are not suitable for children under the age of 6-years. Most colds will clear up of their own accord within a few days. Ensure your child has plenty of rest and a good intake of fluids.
1. Relieve blocked noses with vapour rubs, i.e., menthol (but avoid rubs on clothes or pillows for babies under 3-months).
2. Keep your child away from school or preschool in the first few days when symptoms are at their worst. If the symptoms do not improve, consult a doctor.
3. Be asthma aware: Colds can also sometimes trigger asthma, as can cooler temperature changes. Keep up with inhalers if they’ve been prescribed and see your GP if symptoms worsen. More info at www.asthmanz.co.nz
All the foods listed above are sure-fire ways of boosting your child’s immune system through diet, but if your child hasn’t yet embraced the leafy goodness of green veg or simply doesn’t consume a big enough quantity of the right foods, then you might consider supplementation.
Natural supplements can boost your immune system and prepare the body for winter and these days they come in all shapes and sizes, with flavours to suit even the fussiest of kids. Give them a kids’ multivitamin in the shape of a teddy bear, tangy vitamin c tablets, chewy omega tablets that don’t taste fishy – or try superfoods sneakily hidden in powdered form for you to make into a delicious, power-packed smoothie, and you’ll rest easy knowing that even if your kids can’t quite manage to eat all the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and greens that they need on a daily basis for optimum health and development, they can drink them instead!
Yvonne Eve Walus is an education specialist, a senior consultant to Creative Learning Systems in Auckland, and a mother of two children.