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Three tips to keep your kids from getting sick

The question: What can I do to keep my kids from getting sick this winter?

The answer: Inevitably each winter there is a dramatic increase in the number of infectious diseases going through our communities. While there is no remedy that can completely prevent the common cold, here are my favourite strategies for keeping families as healthy as possible during the winter months.

1. Wash your hands. More than any other intervention, keeping your hands clean and germ-free is probably the best way to stay healthy this winter. When you think about it, our hands are in almost constant contact with parts of our body, objects, and other people. All of these surfaces have the potential to transmit cold viruses and other germs.

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Washing your hands after using the bathroom and before meals is a good start, but to really avoid illness this winter I recommend washing with soap and water or with a hand sanitizer at regular intervals throughout the day. Older children and teens should consider using sanitizer between each class at school, while cleaning hourly at daycare might be appropriate for younger children.

Teaching your children proper hand washing technique is also critical. Don't assume your child knows what they are doing! Briefly running hands under a tap accomplishes little, if anything. Children should be encouraged to use enough soap to generate visible lather, ensure the soapy lather coats the entirety of both hands including between the fingers, followed by a thorough rinse.

Expect this process to take a minimum of 20 to 30 seconds or about the time it takes to hum Happy Birthday twice. Always wash or sanitize hands after sneezing, coughing, and blowing your nose and after close contact with anyone showing signs of having a cold.

2. Learn how to sneeze. Almost every day I see people who sneeze into their hands. While this is convenient and instinctive, it is spraying germs exactly where we don't want them, on our hands. The proper technique for sneezing into the crook of your arm is easy to learn, even for young children. Check out this great Sesame Street video (featuring Elmo), which is sure to educate and entertain children of all ages.

3. Get the flu shot. Another no-brainer – yet every year the number of people who get vaccinated against the flu is surprisingly low. Excuses such as "I never get the flu shot and I have never caught the flu," or "last year I got the flu shot and I was sick all winter" are completely without merit and are more a result of good luck than good management.

While it is true that the flu shot won't protect you against the common cold, it does provide excellent protection for both you and your loved ones against potentially life-threatening influenza. For those with an aversion to injections ask your doctor about FluMist, a form of flu vaccine that is administered as a nasal spray. Flumist is approved for children two years old and up and not only avoids a painful injection but also provides superior protection against influenza.

Dr. Michael Dickinson is the head of pediatrics and chief of staff at the Miramichi Regional Hospital in New Brunswick. He's a staunch advocate for children's health in Atlantic Canada through his involvement with the Canadian Paediatric Society.

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