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How can we prevent constant illness during cold and flu season?
Q: Now that we are in the cold/flu season, my family has been passing their illnesses back and forth for weeks! We are very stringent about cleaning and disinfecting, yet we can't seem to all be well at the same time. What, if anything, can we do to prevent this from going 'round and 'round at our house?
A: Stephanie, it is frustrating when the whole family seems to be sick all winter! The spread of illnesses from one person to another in close quarters is a basic fact of life. We spread germs on our hands (touching each other's faces or hands, or touching surfaces each other has touched, and then touching our own mouth or nose), and from our mouths (kissing each other on the mouth, sharing cups and utensils and coughing into the air).

There are some things you can do to help reduce the spread of germs. Cleaning and disinfecting is a good start. Here are some more ideas:
  • Wash your hands frequently. This is the best way to prevent the spread of illnesses. Be sure to wash your hands after wiping your children's noses and changing their diapers, and before preparing food and eating.
  • Cough and sneeze into your elbow. Do this and teach your children to do it, too. Don't cough or sneeze into the air or onto your hands, because it spreads germs.
  • Don't kiss your children on the mouth. Kiss them on the forehead or cheek instead.
  • Don't share food, drinks, cups or utensils.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces. Remember to clean and disinfect children's toys, faucet handles, doorknobs and telephones. Wash towels frequently.
  • Keep your home smoke-free. Exposure to smoke greatly increases the risk of colds, ear infections, bronchitis and pneumonia.
  • Stay home when you're sick. Also, if friends are sick, ask them not to visit until they're better.
  • Make sure everyone gets the flu vaccine. People of all ages can get sick with the flu, so it's best to prevent it.
As much as you do to try to prevent the spread of illness, it's inevitable that you and your children will get sick sometimes. But if it's any consolation, each illness helps build your immunity to protect you against future illnesses, so you should find yourselves getting sick less frequently over the next few years.

Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician