- Why parents of young children get sick more often
- 1) Kids’ immune systems are developing, so they pick up everything
- 2) Kids get sick with infections that parents don’t develop lifelong immunity to
- 3) Children spend their time in germ factories — a.k.a. day care and school
- 4) Parents are tired and run-down
- Is there anything parents can do to prevent getting their kids’ colds and flu?
- The Secrets to Never Getting Sick
- 1. Eat green vegetables
- 2. Get Vitamin D
- 3. Keep moving
- 4. Get enough sleep
- 5. Skip the alcohol
- 6. Calm down
- 7. Drink green tea
- 8. Add color to meals
- 9. Be social
- 10. Get a flu vaccine
- 11. Practice good hygiene
- 12. Keep it personal
- Secrets to Staying Healthy When Someone You Live With Has a Cold
- In the Livingroom
- In the Bedroom
- In the Bathroom
- In the Kitchen
- Go Shopping: Your Cold-Fighting Arsenal
- Defense “trade-off”
Why parents of young children get sick more often
1) Kids’ immune systems are developing, so they pick up everything
When children mingle with lots of strangers for the first time, usually in day care, their immune systems are being exposed to bacteria and viruses they’ve never seen before. This makes them much more susceptible to getting sick, particularly from highly infectious cold and flu viruses.
“They have no preexisting immunity,” explained Aaron Michael Milstone, an epidemiologist and professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. When babies are born, they are protected by immunity their mothers have passed down to them during pregnancy. “But those antibodies go away and kids become immunologically naive,” he added.
So it’s no surprise researchers have found that kids younger than 6 get about six to eight colds per year. (Note: Those are only the studies on colds.) And if a child gets a virus she’s never had before, because she has no preexisting protection, her illness is typically going to be more intense and last longer.
According to a review of the evidence on how long it takes symptoms to resolve in children, the range was staggering: It took 25 days for an acute cough to resolve, 15 days to clear a common cold, and 16 days to get rid of a nonspecific respiratory tract infection.
The other reason small kids get sick all the time is their less-than-hygienic behavior. It’s not uncommon to see them stick their hands in their nose, mouth, or diaper — or other kids’ noses, mouths, and diapers — and licking toys picked up off the ground. “These social factors put them more at risk,” Milstone added.
2) Kids get sick with infections that parents don’t develop lifelong immunity to
You may have wondered why, if parents have already gone through the rounds of achy childhood illness, they then go through them again with their young children. Shouldn’t they already have strong immune protection?
The answer is yes and no.
Some of the bugs kids bring home are the kinds that parents don’t develop lasting immunity to. If kids have a bout of chickenpox, and the parent had chickenpox as a child, the parent will be spared, since most people develop lifelong immunity to the varicella-zoster virus after battling it.
But kids don’t merely get diseases that parents already have lifelong protection from. They also commonly pick up upper respiratory tract infections and flus — both caused by viruses that change all the time and that catch our immune systems off guard.
There is some good news here: Experience with previous similar viruses or bacteria will provide some protection, meaning the sickness in the parent won’t be as intense or as long-lasting as the sickness in the poor kid.
“Usually the parents are not getting fevers,” said Robert Jacobson, a professor of pediatrics at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine. “And usually their illnesses are relatively short-lived and rarely complicated. So illnesses are not as severe and have fewer complications.”
3) Children spend their time in germ factories — a.k.a. day care and school
When parents drop off their kids at day care or school, they may as well think of that place as a germ factory. Remember, they’re around all those other little kids with naive immune systems who are picking up and spreading whatever bugs are in the air or on their toys that day. So the children pass those germs around, and the cycle of sickness repeats. Again and again.
Jacobson explained: “Young children in day care appear to have more colds than children cared for at home.” But with this comes some good news too: “When day care–attending children grow older and enter primary school with their peers who did not attend day care, the children who attended day care are less vulnerable to colds than those who did not.” (The same seems to be true for gastroenteritis — commonly referred to as stomach flu.)
In other words, that period of intense exposure to illness at day care helps strengthen kids’ immune systems, which in turn means those kids get sick less often later in life.
4) Parents are tired and run-down
Parents, meanwhile, are much more likely to pick up these germs from their kids purely because they come into closer contact with them and have more exposure to their germs. They’re spending a lot of time around kids, and are doing things like changing diapers or cleaning up vomit. All these factors increase the likelihood of picking up whatever bug came home from day care.
This intense exposure to kids’ germs is compounded by the fact that young parents are often tired and worn out. When people don’t get enough sleep, they’re more at risk of getting sick after coming into contact with viruses or bacteria. And for many, there is perhaps no time of life with such prolonged sleep deprivation as during the early child-rearing years.
Is there anything parents can do to prevent getting their kids’ colds and flu?
Flor Munoz-Rivas, an associate professor of pediatrics in the section of infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine, advised parents to make sure their kids are vaccinated, and that they’re at day cares that require vaccination, so that preventable infections are staved off.
She also noted that keeping the house clean, washing kids’ hands, and washing your hands after touching kids’ secretions or changing diapers is a must. She suggested keeping kids home when they’re sick if possible, too.
Beyond that, there’s little you can do about this tough phase of life. But she warned, “If a parent becomes ill, they need to take care of themselves.” Getting sleep and basic self-care can go a long way to staying healthy, she said. My friend with the two sons, who has been sleep-deprived for three years, would surely say that’s easier said than done.
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After your newborn comes home from the hospital, it’s normal to want to introduce your new little one to your family and friends. At the same time, you want to protect him from getting an infection from a visitor. A newborn can also get sick from being exposed to people by going out in the community. Many new parents wonder when is it “safe” to take the baby out in public.
Trying to decide what is best for the baby in these situations can be difficult. And unfortunately, the answer is not always simple. In general, the more people the baby has contact with, the more likely the baby will come in contact with an infection.
Infections in newborns can be very serious for several reasons. First, infants do not have fully developed immune systems, so they are more susceptible to infectious illnesses. Also, when a newborn gets an infection, the illness is often more serious than when an adult or older child gets the same infection. Finally, when a newborn gets a fever, extensive medical care is recommended, because the fever could be because of a life-threatening infection. This is true even if the baby seems fine. Fever in a baby who is 4 – 6 weeks old is always an emergency.
It is important to try to protect newborns against getting infections, but this does not mean the newborn can never have visitors or go out in public. Try to remember these helpful tips when trying to decide who can visit your baby and where you can take your new little one:
- Try not to have visitors who have infectious symptoms around the baby. For example, anyone with a fever, cold, cough, sore throat, vomiting or diarrhea probably should not visit. Remember, even a person who had infectious symptoms a few days before may still be contagious.
- Visitors should always wash their hands before holding the baby. Hand washing is the most important thing we can do to help stop the spread of infection.
- Infants and toddlers who attend daycare and young school-age children, are frequent carriers of infections. So try to minimize these young visitors to those that are most important in those first few weeks. Of course, siblings would be an exception to this rule. It is important that older brothers or sisters get to know the new addition. Be sure that siblings learn to wash their hands before touching the baby.
- Don’t forget: It is acceptable to say no to visitors. Your baby’s health is most important. If you do not feel comfortable with someone visiting yet, it is OK to say so.
- Try to keep public outings to a minimum those first few weeks. That does not mean you can never take the baby anywhere. You will need to run errands, the baby needs to go to the doctor, and there will be people and places that will be important for you to visit. Just keep in mind that you want the baby’s exposure to be somewhat limited to those people and places that you feel are important and necessary.
Besides being mindful of who your little one comes in contact with, there are a few other things you can do to help decrease your newborn’s chance of getting sick:
- Breast milk is the best infant nutrition for many reasons, including helping to prevent infections in your baby. If you are pregnant or considering having a baby, talk to your doctor about the benefits of breastfeeding.
- Parents, siblings and caregivers should receive the flu vaccine each year. Babies cannot get the flu vaccine until they are 6 months old. Protecting those who live with your baby helps protect your newborn.
- Pregnant women should get immunized against pertussis with each pregnancy. Pertussis is the bacteria that causes whooping cough, which can be a deadly infection in young babies. All other adult caregivers should also get immunized as well.
- Remember to wash your hands before caring for the baby to decrease spread of infection.
- Be sure your baby also gets all his vaccines. Immunizing your child helps protect him against preventable but potentially life-threatening infections.
In the end, only you and your family can decide what people and experiences are most important for you and your newborn. Although these decisions are not always easy, these tips will hopefully make things a bit easier for you.
Author Laura Lawler, M.D., FAAP, is chief of Pediatric Hospitalists at Christiana Care.
The Secrets to Never Getting Sick
Most secrets to good health aren’t secrets at all, but common sense. For example, you should avoid contact with bacteria and viruses at school and work. But a whole host of other feel-good solutions can help you live healthier while avoiding that runny nose or soar throat. Here are 12 tips for preventing colds and the flu.
1. Eat green vegetables
Green, leafy vegetables are rich in vitamins that help you maintain a balanced diet — and support a healthy immune system. According to a study of mice, eating cruciferous vegetables sends a chemical signal to the body that boosts specific cell-surface proteins necessary for efficient immune-system function. In this study, healthy mice deprived of green vegetables lost 70 to 80 percent of cell-surface proteins.
2. Get Vitamin D
Reports indicate that many Americans fall short of their daily vitamin D requirements. Deficiencies in vitamin D may lead to symptoms such as poor bone growth, cardiovascular problems, and a weak immune system.
Results from a 2012 study in the journal Pediatricssuggest that all children should be checked for adequate vitamin D levels. This is especially important for those with dark skin, since they don’t get vitamin D as easily from exposure to sunlight.
Foods that are good sources of vitamin D include egg yolks, mushrooms, salmon, canned tuna, and beef liver. You can also buy vitamin D supplements at your local grocery store or pharmacy. Choose supplements that contain D3 (cholecalciferol), since it’s better at raising your blood levels of vitamin D.
Shop for vitamin D.
3. Keep moving
Staying active by following a regular exercise routine — such as walking three times a week — does more than keep you fit and trim. According to a study published in the journal Neurologic Clinicians, regular exercise also:
- keeps inflammation and chronic disease at bay
- reduces stress and the release of stress-related hormones
- accelerates the circulation of disease-fighting white blood cells (WBCs), which helps the body fight the common cold
4. Get enough sleep
Getting adequate sleep is extremely important if you’ve been exposed to a virus, according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Healthy adult participants who slept a minimum of eight hours each night over a two-week period showed a greater resistance to the virus. Those who slept seven hours or less each night were about three percent more likely to develop the virus after exposure.
One reason may be that the body releases cytokines during extended periods of sleep. Cytokines are a type of protein. They help the body fight infection by regulating the immune system.
5. Skip the alcohol
New research shows that drinking alcohol can damage the body’s dendritic cells, a vital component of the immune system. An increase in alcohol consumption over time can increase a person’s exposure to bacterial and viral infections.
A study in the journal Clinical and Vaccine Immunology compared the dendritic cells and immune system responses in alcohol-fed mice to mice that hadn’t been supplied alcohol. Alcohol suppressed the immunity in mice to varying degrees. Doctors say the study helps explain why vaccines are less effective for people with alcohol addiction.
6. Calm down
For years, doctors suspected there was a connection between chronic mental stress and physical illness. Finding an effective way to regulate personal stress may go a long way toward better overall health, according to a 2012 study published by the National Academy of Sciences. Try practicing yoga or meditation to relieve stress.
Cortisol helps the body fight inflammation and disease. The constant release of the hormone in people who are chronically stressed lessens its overall effectiveness. This can result in increased inflammation and disease, as well as a less effective immune system.
7. Drink green tea
For centuries, green tea has been associated with good health. Green tea’s health benefits may be due to its high level of antioxidants, called flavonoids.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, several fresh-brewed cups a day can lead to potential health benefits. These include lower blood pressure and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
Shop for green tea.
8. Add color to meals
Do you have trouble remembering to eat your fruits and vegetables at every meal? Cooking with all colors of the rainbow will help you get a wide range of vitamins such as vitamin C.
Shop for vitamin C.
While there’s no evidence that vitamin C can reduce the severity or length of illness, a 2006 study from the European Journal of Clinical Nutritionshows that it may help the immune system ward off colds and flus, especially in those who are stressed.
Doctors have long seen a connection between chronic disease and loneliness, especially in people recovering from heart surgery. Some health authorities even consider social isolation a risk factor for chronic diseases.
Research published by the American Psychological Association suggests that social isolation may increase stress, which slows the body’s immune response and ability to heal quickly. In the study, male rats were slightly more susceptible to damage from social isolation than females.
10. Get a flu vaccine
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all people over six months of age get a yearly flu vaccine. However, exceptions should be made for certain people, including those who have severe allergic reactions to chicken eggs. A severe allergy leads to symptoms such as hives or anaphylaxis.
People who have had severe reactions to influenza vaccinations in the pastshould also avoid yearly vaccines. In rare instances, the vaccine may lead to the development of Guillain-Barré syndrome.
11. Practice good hygiene
Limiting your exposure to illness by avoiding germs is key to remaining healthy. Here are some other ways to practice good hygiene:
- Shower daily.
- Wash your hands before eating or preparing food.
- Wash your hands before inserting contact lenses or performing any other activity that brings you in contact with the eyes or mouth.
- Wash your hands for 20 seconds and scrub under your fingernails.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
- Carry an alcohol-based hand cleaner for on-the-go use. Disinfect shared surfaces, such as keyboards, telephones, doorknobs, and remote controls.
12. Keep it personal
Flu viruses can generally survive on surfaces for 24 hours, according to the National Health Service. That leaves plenty of time for germs to spread among family members. Just one sick child can pass an illness to an entire family in the right setting.
To avoid sharing germs, keep personal items separate. Personal items include:
- drinking glasses
Wash contaminated items — especially toys that are shared — in hot, soapy water. When in doubt, opt for disposable drinking cups, utensils, and towels.
Staying healthy is more than just practicing a few good techniques when you don’t feel well. It involves regular exercise, healthy foods, and staying hydrated throughout the day.
Your body works hard to keep you moving and active, so make sure to give it the food it needs to remain in tip-top shape.
Secrets to Staying Healthy When Someone You Live With Has a Cold
No matter how much you love someone, we can bet you don’t want to share their cold. Living with a sick child or sick partner means knowing how not to get sick yourself. Boosting your immunity will help, and so will committing to cleanliness around the house.
Viral transmission can happen fairly quickly within the home. A recent study found that during flu season, family members of people who had the flu, who eventually got sick, showed symptoms within 2.9 days of the first diagnosis in the household. Transmission isn’t guaranteed (you might sail through without getting sick) but why risk it?
The steps you take in each room may differ slightly, but one rule remains the same: Regularly clean shared surfaces, such as refrigerator handles, keyboards, remote controls, tables, door frames, and doorknobs with disinfecting cleaners. Then get specific.
In the Livingroom
Tempted to ban your sick child or partner from the livingroom? It might not be the best idea. “Confining a sick person to their bedroom just makes them very unhappy,” says Julie Yeh, MD, MPH, an assistant professor in the department of family, community, and preventive medicine at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. Since sick people in your house will be hanging out all over the place, make sure they keep the following habits:
- Cough and sneeze into an elbow. “It only takes a small droplet to pass the cold,” says out Kyle Kaufman, MD, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Cincinnati. For that reason, teach children (and adults for that matter) to cover their coughs and sneezes.
- Keep your distance. You can catch a cold within six feet of an infected person. If a sick family member is lounging on the couch, make sure everyone else gives him or her ample space.
- Toss tissues fast. Put a small trash can close to sick children so they can throw away used tissues immediately. Line the can with a bag for easy disposal later.
- Assign a designated blanket and pillow. When sick people cuddle up on the couch, make sure they use only their own linens.
- Don’t share toys. A sick child’s toys should be either cleaned with disinfecting wipes or limited specifically for the sick child’s use to prevent another child from touching the germy toys.
- Get fresh air. “The more fresh air, the better,” says Dr. Yeh. On mild-weather days, crack a window to bring some fresh air into the room and the entire house.
In the Bedroom
When you have a sick partner, sharing a bed or a bedroom can feel risky. “Sleeping in another bed or room is pretty extreme,” says Yeh, but in certain circumstances, such as needing to get quality sleep or stay healthy for work, it could be the best option, at least for a few days. Otherwise:
- Keep sheets clean. You may not need to do laundry every day, but if you change the sheets (or at least the pillowcases) that your sick partner coughed or sneezed on, you may fare better. For your sick child’s bed, it is fine to wait until the child is feeling better before changing the sheets, unless there is anything visible to wash out.
- Let in fresh air. Circulating fresh air into the room can protect you by moving out the germs. Open windows or keep doors open during the day as much as possible so air moves through the house.
- Provide tissues and trash cans. Don’t let used tissues pile up on the nightstand — make them easy to throw away immediately, even in the middle of the night.
- Humidify. A cool-mist humidifier can help everyone feel better and could slow or prevent the transmission of viral respiratory illness.
In the Bathroom
No matter how often you clean, your bathroom might seem like a germ’s natural habitat. It’s often humid, wet, and filled with shared surfaces like doorknobs and faucet handles. Bathroom tips include:
- Enforce hand washing. Soap and water are all you need. Scrub your hands or your child’s hands thoroughly — for as long as it takes to sing the ABCs. If someone in the house is sick, trade shared hand towels for a stack of paper towels that can be thrown away.
- Don’t share bath towels. Make sure sick children and adults have their own bath towels. You don’t have to wash the towel daily, but keep it separate and hang it where it can dry out.
- Clean (or replace) toothbrushes. Regular toothbrushes can be cleaned with soap and water or in the hot cycle of the dishwasher. Alternatively, you could just consider the cold a reminder to get each family member a new toothbrush. “You’re supposed to replace them every six months anyway, but I’d bet most of us haven’t done that,” says Dr. Kaufman.
In the Kitchen
Your kitchen definitely needs some sanitizing attention because it, like the bathroom, has many shared surfaces. But it’s also a place where you can keep some supplies to boost your immunity and help your loved ones feel better. Here’s how:
- Stock up on fluids. Your sick loved one will need lots of fluid, like water and juice. People who aren’t sick should also stay hydrated, as it helps to boost immunity.
- Stock lots of healthy food. Initially your sick patient might not have much appetite or may want to snack only on bland foods like soup. But everyone else needs a nutritious diet to stay healthy. Keep fruits, vegetables, dairy, and lean meat on hand. Make sure some of these options are easy-to-prepare foods, just in case the person who usually does the cooking gets sick, too.
- Carefully clean dishes and utensils. “Run dishes and utensils through the dishwasher with the heat cycle on,” advises Yeh. Don’t allow sharing of utensils or cups.
- Don’t let sick people cook. Coughing and sneezing near food isn’t smart. If the family chef is under the weather, make sure someone who isn’t sick helps with the preparation.
Go Shopping: Your Cold-Fighting Arsenal
Cold and flu are viruses, so antibiotics can’t fight them. Instead, you’ll have to stock up on items that can help the symptoms. Here’s what experts recommend:
- Facial tissue. Blow your nose, and then toss tissues into the trash can.
- Hand sanitizer. Choose an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to use when water and soap are not available.
- Cough and cold medicines. Choose medicines that treat the symptoms. Remember to check with your pediatrician about dosing before giving any medications to a sick child.
- Soap. Regular soap is fine. Make sure to have enough dish soap and detergent to wash your clothes and sheets more often.
- Saline nasal spray. This can keep you comfortable and breathing easier through congestion. You should have one bottle for each family member and label them so no one shares. The tips can be cleaned with a little soap and water.
- Disinfecting cleaners. Any product that says it is disinfecting should be fine, says Kaufman. “The cheapest option is diluted bleach,” he points out. Mix one part bleach with 20 parts water, and spray it onto affected surfaces, letting it sit 20 to 30 seconds before wiping. Because bleach can irritate skin and bleach odors can irritate airways, do this when your sick child or sick partner is not in the room being cleaned.
- Cool-mist humidifier. This gadget helps you breathe better without the burn risk for children that hot humidifiers pose. Researchers have found evidence that as humidity increases, viruses have a harder time spreading to another person. Make sure to change the water and clean the machine regularly.
- Flu shot appointment. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting a flu shot as soon as the vaccine becomes available in your community.
Whether you catch a cold this winter or make it through the season scot-free may depend in part on how many “stressors” your nose and airway passages encounter, a new study suggests.
The research looked at two defense mechanisms that cells in a person’s airway use to protect themselves from threats: one that protects against viruses like the common cold virus and another that protects against “oxidative stress.” This form of cell damage is triggered by viruses and other irritants, such as cigarette smoke or pollen.
The study found that there’s a trade-off between these two defenses: more protection against oxidative stress damage (for example, damage induced by cigarette smoke) means less protection against invaders like rhinovirus, which is the main cause of colds.
“Your airway lining protects against viruses but also other harmful substances that enter airways,” senior study author Dr. Ellen Foxman, an assistant professor of laboratory medicine at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, said in a statement. “The airway does pretty well if it encounters one stressor at a time. But when there are two different stressors, there’s a trade-off,” Foxman explained. “What we found is that when your airway is trying to deal with another stress type, it can adapt, but the cost is susceptibility to rhinovirus infection.”
The study was published Sept. 11 in the journal Cell Reports.
Respiratory viruses cause an estimated 500 million colds and 2 million hospitalizations in the United States every year, the researchers said. However, some people can be exposed to a virus without getting sick, because the cells that line their airways clear the virus before it causes symptoms. But for other people, this clearance doesn’t happen, and they wind up sick.
To better understand why some people get sick from cold viruses while others escape illness, the researchers examined airway cells from healthy human donors. The cells were obtained from the lining of people’s nasal passages or of their lungs.
Researchers found that the nasal cells had a stronger inherent defense response to viruses, while the lung cells had a stronger defense against oxidative stress.
Later experiments revealed that there was indeed a trade-off between these two defense mechanisms. For example, when the researchers exposed nasal cells to cigarette smoke to trigger an oxidative-stress response, the cells became more susceptible to rhinovirus.
“They survive the cigarette smoke but can’t fight the virus as well,” Foxman said. “And the virus grows better.”
The finding might explain why cigarette smokers tend to be more susceptible to rhinovirus infection compared to people who don’t smoke, the researchers said.
The results also suggest that finding ways to protect the cells lining the airway from oxidative stress “may lead to effective strategies to enhance natural defense against rhinovirus infection,” the researchers concluded. However, more studies will be needed to investigate this idea.
Original article on Live Science.