One child’s illness can disrupt an entire household. An incessant cough, a draining nose, an irritable cry, can all be quite high maintenance. “It’s only a virus” can be diagnostic music to a parent’s ears, considering the alternative serious illness possibilities, but this reassurance only gets us so far. What do I need to look for? How can I ease my child’s discomfort? Would a short course of antibiotics be appropriate? And how could I have prevented this in the first place?! These are questions that all parents have asked at some point in their career.
That last question might just be the most important one, though. Once full-blown, viruses are nearly impossible to control, and medical science has a long way to go as far as treatment. So prevention is quite possibly our best therapy in 2013.
Pop quiz: What single measure do hospitals take, in the 21st century, that makes the greatest difference in keeping patients free of infection? Fancy antibiotics, you say? High tech masks and gloves? Infrared lasers? Sterilization of surgical instruments? “No” to all of the above. The correct answer has been around for centuries. It is good hand washing. Frequent and adequate hand washing is the single most important measure we can all take to stay healthy and avoid infection.
I have seen public awareness “go viral” on this issue in the past 5 years. The “cover your cough” campaign has been a wonderful success. Teaching children to cough and sneeze into a tissue or shirt sleeve is incredibly helpful and can make a huge difference in reducing the spread of virus and bacteria. We now teach children the technique of hand washing in schools. There are Purell stations at the front doors of many hospitals, malls and supermarkets. And finally, finally…finally, after decades of “she caught a cold because she went outside with a wet head,” Pasteur’s germ theory from the 19th century might just be catching on!
And there is one other major preventative measure worth mentioning. We know that viral infections are maximally contagious in their early phase when children are febrile. This is an important time for your child to lay low and stay home from daycare or school. I will sometimes hear the history, “So he woke up with a temp of 102, I gave him Ibuprofen and dropped him off at daycare. Wouldn’t you know it, the nurse called me right in the middle of my morning meeting to come and pick her up.” Trust me, I know the pressures of a working parent, but sending significantly ill kids back in the mix is terrible for that child and all the others who interact with him.