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This time of year is one of joy and celebration, but it can also be one of frustration and anxiety.

The flu season is starting to reach its peak and my office is becoming flooded with sick children, especially babies and young kids who are spending their first winter in daycare or school. The question I receive most often from parents is, “What can I do to prevent my kid from getting sick so often?”

Unfortunately, it’s probably impossible to go through an entire winter without getting sick at least once. And for kids who are just starting school or daycare, it’s common to spend a large part of the winter sick, with back-to-back viruses hitting their immature immune system. As kids grow older, they become exposed to more viruses and their immune systems evolve to protect them. Until this occurs, there are a few things that parents can do to help limit exposure to viruses like the cold, flu and other winter bugs.

The most important thing parents can do, especially for young kids in daycare is to reinforce the need to wash hands frequently. Parents should help wash their young kids’ hands throughout the day, especially when they come home from school or day care. Parents should wash their own hands frequently to prevent bringing home any viruses from work. Older siblings should wash, too. They can carry home from school viruses or bacteria that may not affect them but can infect younger siblings.

If your kids are in day care, it’s fine to discuss hygiene with the workers. Find out if there are sinks in each room, and make sure teachers are checking that kids wash their hands after using the bathroom and before eating. Ask how often toys are sanitized, especially if there are infants who put the toys in their mouths. Make sure bottles and food that are brought from home are properly labeled and stored, and that caregivers are practicing good handwashing techniques themselves.

One of the most important ways to help prevent the spread of viruses in school-aged kids is to know when to keep them home and when they can go back to school or daycare.

Symptoms that should keep kids at home include fevers of above 100.5 degrees, diarrhea severe enough to cause accidents, multiple episodes of vomiting in a day, mouth sores causing excessive drooling or open/draining skin lesions. Once symptoms become more controllable, or once bacterial infections such as strep throat or pink eye have been treated for at least 24 hours, kids are safe to return to school, unless they are sick with something that requires a longer quarantine period.

Some ailments don’t require any time away from school or child care: the common cold, runny noses or coughs without other associated symptoms or a rash without a fever. However, you should always use your best judgment and consider your kid’s level of comfort.

Hopefully, these tips can help make this cold and flu season a little easier for you and your family. And, of course, it’s still not too late for your annual flu shot.

Dr. Laura Shefner writes about pediatric care for the Cleveland Jewish News. She is a pediatrician at The MetroHealth System and practices in Beachwood and Parma.

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