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How to Keep Children Healthy During Flu Season

How foods, supplements, rest, and a flu shot can help keep your child healthy.

Last year at this time, we were driving to Arcadia on a Saturday morning to get the H1N1 vaccine. There was a line that wrapped around several city blocks and being that we had a four-year-old with us, we decided we’d rather wait. Eventually, we were able to get the vaccine. Luckily, this year there are no long lines, but that doesn’t mean parents should put it off.  The flu season is just getting into full swing and according to the Centers for Disease Control the best prevention for the flu is a flu shot.

But even if you’re a model citizen and you get your flu shot, it’s still not easy staying healthy this time of year. You’re chances of getting sick are still pretty high—especially when you have school-age children in the house. So now is prime time to build up your immunity.

Alexis Ankevar, a local MD and mother of three has these tips for keeping yourself and your children healthy:

  • The MOST important thing to do in preventing illness is to avoid touching your face. You could have virus all over your hands and clothes but you will not get sick if you don't touch your face. This is because our skin acts as a barrier to viruses. Viruses can only enter our bodies through the cells of our lips, mouth, nose or eyes. This is why washing hands before eating is especially important, even if you are just picking up a snack to eat.
  • Encourage children to sneeze into elbows, use tissue to wipe noses and avoid sucking on toys/fingers or biting nails.
  • Believe it or not, viruses aren't the powerhouses we think they are.  They need a certain environment in order to thrive. They grow best at temperatures slightly less than our normal body temperature (which is why we often get sick when it gets cold outside). Viruses grow best when the immune system is slightly suppressed. Here are some things that suppress our immune system: emotional stress, poor sleep, poor nutrition, inadequate exercise, and physical stress (such as recent cold, or chronic conditions including allergies).
  • A healthy, whole food balanced diet with plenty of sleep and exercise is best for preventing colds, but supplements can also help. Vitamins D and C, multivitamins and pro-biotics have all been shown in clinical trials to be beneficial in preventing infections.
  • When cold and flu symptoms start, Zinc and Echinacea have both been shown to reduce the total days of illness. Echinacea should be purchased in the liquid form, and one (even a child) should take 1-2 tablespoons every two hours for maximum effectiveness. A homeopathic remedy for the flu is oscilloccinum (1 capful three times daily). One study found that twice as many people taking oscilloccinum got over the flu after 48 hours compared to placebo. 
  • When to call the doctor? Generally most colds are caused by viruses, which are treated with staying warm, eating salty foods with plenty of liquids and resting.  After about a week of an illness, if the symptoms persist or worsen then this may mean that a second infection, possibly from bacteria, is setting in. This would generally require antibiotics but not always.
  • Urgent calls to the doctor would include a symptom of severe sore throat which could be a strep infection that can uncommonly lead to Rheumatic Fever and later Rheumatic Heart Disease. Also, if you or your child has a headache which gets worse with lying down or is associated with drowsiness, nausea or any change in mentation, call your doctor right away as this may be a warning sign for meningitis.

Dr. Deokhee Ahn, who specializes in Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine in San Marino, said “things that encourage a healthy immune system and are easy to give to children are honey, ginger, cinnamon and cloves. You can boil them together with water to make a tea. It’s also good to keep the body warm—sweating helps to cleanse the body and to fight off the beginning stages of the flu or a virus. A very good basic Chinese Herb that helps build immunity is Astragalus. This is good for everybody and it is available in a simple toddler form. You can find it at health food stores. More information can be found at Ahn's Web site at Wholeness123.com

According to the Centers for Disease Control Web site, the best remedy for not getting the flu is to get a flu shot. They have also expanded their recommendation for who should get the influenza vaccine to include all people 6 months and older. Vaccination is especially important for children younger than five years of age and children of any age with a long-term health condition like asthma, diabetes and heart disease. These children are at higher risk of serious flu complications if they get the flu. It’s also important for caretakers of young children to get vaccinated. Before getting your child vaccinated, be sure to talk to your doctor about your child’s needs.

Most pharmacies and your pediatrician’s office will have the flu vaccine. Free flu shots are available at public health centers. Locations are available on the Los Angeles Department of Public Health Web site.

Apparently, the old adage “put a jacket on or you’ll catch a cold” isn’t that far off.  The right foods and supplements, staying warm, washing hands, lots of rest, liquids and a flu shot will go a long way to help prevent those dreaded sleepless, worrisome nights we all go through as parents.

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