How to Stay Well When Your Kids Are Sick
If your child’s in daycare or school, or you belong to a playgroup, there’s only so much you can do to protect him from catching whatever’s going around. And when he does catch it, you’re at a real disadvantage simply by being in direct, regular contact with him. But are you doomed to get sick? Not necessarily. Keeping your immunity up in general puts you ahead of the game. Beyond that, taking steps to control the infection at the onset can actually up your odds of staying well (and keeping the rest of your family healthy). What you can do to stave off some common kid bugs:
The main culprit: the rotavirus, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea in kids under 5. It doesn’t pose a threat to grown-ups because most have had it by early childhood, so you’re not likely to get as severely ill as kids are. Two stomach bugs that can make adults sick are the Norwalk-like virus and giardiasis, a parasitic infection. Norwalk can produce low-grade fever, headache, vomiting, and diarrhea; it’s found in uncooked foods, raw fruits and vegetables, and contaminated water. Daycare centers are common breeding grounds for the parasite that causes giardiasis. Symptoms include diarrhea and stomach cramps.
Before you became a mom, you might have sailed through the year with only an occasional cold. Now, any time your child has the sniffles, your own nose starts to run a few days later.
Infection control The standard advice bears repeating:
* Get enough sleep (at least seven or eight hours a night; if you’re the mom of a baby or toddler, try to make up for lost shut-eye with naps).
* Eat five-plus servings of fruits and vegetables a day — especially those high in vitamin C, like oranges, kiwis, strawberries, and grapefruit, and easy-to-tote juices and dried fruits.
* Practice stress-relieving activities, like meditation, or even taking a walk or a hot-tea break.
* If you feel a cold coming on, eat more immunity-boosting food: Doing so won’t stop the cold but may shorten its duration. “The minute one of my girls has a sign of a cold, I make soups with garlic, kale, and onions,” says Montclair, New Jersey, mom Stephanie Finucane, whose kids are 4 and 2. “Kale has vitamin C, and garlic’s good for the immune system, but I just tell them that the soup will make them feel better faster.”
While it tends to hit most often in summer and early fall, at first symptoms of this disease resemble a garden-variety cold: fatigue, sore throat, and fever. After a day or two, fluid-filled sores will start to develop on the hands, feet, in and on the mouth, and in some cases on the buttocks. These should crust over after five to seven days.
The varicella vaccine (recommended for all kids under 12) has brought about a significant drop in the number of hospitalizations and deaths from chicken pox. But even if your child gets the shot, it’s not a guarantee he won’t get the disease: One in five vaccinated kids will develop what’s known as “breakthrough illness” when exposed to the virus. Even though this is a mild form of the disease, and usually without fever, it’s still contagious. If you’re not immune (you’ve never had chicken pox nor a vaccination against it), you could come down with a more severe case. In general, chicken pox poses a bigger threat to adults than to kids; grown-ups are more likely to be hospitalized or die of complications, including pneumonia or infection of the brain.
* Until then, minimize the amount of “air space” (infection-control lingo) you and your child share. Not only are her blisters contagious but so’s her saliva. By simply talking, your child is contaminating the air. (If 100 nonimmune people were to simply walk through her bedroom, 90 of them would get sick.)
* Eating, playing, and snuggling with a sick kid puts you at risk until you’re vaccinated (another reason to get that shot right away!)
* Put someone who’s definitely immune in charge of such close-contact childcare duties as diaper changes, baths, and giving medicine.
* Keeping your distance is crucial if you’re expecting. The vaccine isn’t recommended during pregnancy, and your unborn baby is at risk of birth defects if exposed to the virus in utero. (The vaccine’s fine if you’re nursing. If you’re thinking of getting pregnant, it’s a good idea to have a blood test to determine whether you’re immune to chicken pox. If not, get vaccinated before you conceive.)
* If getting childcare help isn’t an option, wash your hands after every intimate encounter with your child. If you get chicken pox anyway, an antiviral medication such as acyclovir can shorten the course of the illness.
In older kids and grown-ups, strep causes a super-sore throat and swollen glands; infants and toddlers tend to get less sick, but symptoms — bloody nasal discharge, reduced appetite, and swollen glands — can still make them uncomfortable.
After 24 to 48 hours on oral antibiotics, a child is no longer contagious. Until then, all the rules about not sharing towels, cups, and toys apply. If your child’s on an antibiotic, make sure he takes it at regular intervals and that he finishes all of the medication. If not treated properly, strep can spread to other areas of the body and can lead to ear and sinus infections, or even rheumatic fever.
So take the basic steps to prevent infection: Wash your hands frequently, especially after close contact with your child, even if he doesn’t seem sick; if strep’s going around, you’re most likely to get infected before symptoms show up. If possible, avoid close, intimate contact with a sick kid until the antibiotics have kicked in.
There’s no mistaking the telltale pinkish hue caused by conjunctivitis, a bacterial or viral infection of the inside of the eye. The infected eye (or eyes) might itch and ooze, which is why a yellowish crust often develops during sleep. But it is tough to distinguish between a bacterial infection (which will respond to antibiotics) and a viral one (which won’t, but usually runs its course in seven to ten days). “If an eye is really red or pink, and there’s a thick, yellowish discharge, it’s likely the infection’s bacterial and I’ll go ahead and prescribe antibiotic drops. Usually the eye will clear up in three to five days,” says Emmanuel Walter, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at Duke University Medical Center. In some cases, an antibiotic ointment or oral antibiotics may be prescribed.
Infection control Make sure you: