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The question: We all know kids get sick all the time. But now that my parents are getting older, I'm worried about them catching an illness when they play with their grandchildren. What are the best way to keep both generations happy and bug-free when they're around each other?

The answer: Cold and flu season is generally the only time of year that I see entire families come in to our clinic sharing similar symptoms from being infected with the same virus. This is especially true for families with young children. Preschool kids have on average six to eight infections per year, and kids in daycare are at especially high risk of picking up germs, because they play in close proximity, share toys and put everything in their mouths! So your concern for your parents is valid, as those over 65, and those with chronic medical conditions such as heart or lung disease, are not only at increased risk of catching these infections, but they suffer from more severe and prolonged symptoms.

During cold and flu season, it's important that you're taking steps to keep your family healthy, and the best defence is prevention. To allow you to spend time together and maintain good health, follow these simple steps:

  • 1. Take care of your immune system. Our body has natural defences that kick into high gear when exposed to the bugs that make us sick. But our immune systems don’t work as well when we’re tired or undernourished, so encourage your kids and parents to maintain routine sleep cycles, healthy diets and regular exercise to keep them strong. If there is a smoker in the family, be aware that exposure to second-hand smoke can also decrease immune function.
  • 2. Decrease the sharing of germs. Viruses and bacteria are most commonly spread through contaminated surfaces and cough droplets. Break the chain of transmission by teaching your kids to cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing, and wash their hands regularly. If infection is a concern, clean and disinfect surfaces that both your kids and parents may come in contact with.
  • 3. Get the flu shot. Children under 5, and those over 65 or with other health conditions, are at highest risk of getting the flu and having a more severe and prolonged course. So get your family the flu shot, and don’t forget about yourself! Even if you’re not at high risk of flu, getting the shot will still reduce your risk of infection – and subsequently spreading it to the more susceptible members of your family.
  • 4. Visit when you’re healthy: If you or your kids are coming down with an illness, it may be best to postpone your visit with their grandparents for a few days until you’re well.

By following these tips, you can enjoy your family get-togethers and maintain good health together too.

Dr. Sheila Wijayasinghe is the medical director at the Immigrant Womens' Health Centre, works as a staff physician at St. Michael's Hospital in their Family Practice Unit and at Hassle Free Clinic, and established and runs an on-site clinic at Women's Habitat Shelter in Etobicoke.

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