9 Reasons Kids are Inclined to Catch Cough, Colds & Flu— and Tips on Keeping Them Healthy
In an average year, children catch six to 10 colds. In fact, in families with children who are in school, the number of colds per child can be as high as 12 per year. Adults, on the other hand, only catch about two to four colds per year, on average. Women, especially those 20 to 30 years of age, catch more colds than men, possibly because of closer contact with children.1
According to the Mayo Clinic, the common cold is the number one reason why children miss school.2 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that nearly 22 million school days are lost annually due to the common cold alone.3
But colds don’t just affect school days. Parents miss millions of workdays each year to stay home to care for their sick children. When added to the workdays missed by employees suffering from a cold, the total economic impact of cold-related work loss exceeds $20 billion.4
Here are nine reasons why kids are likely to get sick this year, and tips to keep them healthy.
: Colds are on the rise when kids return to school in the fall because shortly after most schools start, the weather gets a little drier and a little crisper. The lower humidity during the colder months helps both cold- and flu-causing viruses to thrive. This weather may also dry the lining of the nasal passages, making kids more susceptible to infection.5
Tip: Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air in the home, and drink lots of fluids.
: Young children tend to be less resistant to infection than a healthy adult.
Tip: Be responsible for children practicing healthy habits. Children need to get plenty of sleep and physical activity, drink water, and eat nutritious food to help them stay healthy in all year long.
: Schools and daycare centers are breeding grounds for colds and flu because they connect children with other children who also may lack a fully developed immune system or lack “cold etiquette.” In comparison to spending the summer months at home and outside, a child is exposed to more children and is in closer contact with others when school is in session. Crowded classroom conditions increase the chance of coming in contact with someone who is sick or with a contaminated surface.
Tip: No matter how much you try, it’s almost inevitable that your child will bring home more than homework from school. Look at the positive side: Just as young children need to interact with other kids to develop good social skills, their exchange of cold and flu bugs helps to mature their immune system. But there’s no reason to overdo it! Be prepared to catch symptoms at the onset by stocking your medicine cabinet with essentials like a thermometer and safe, kid-friendly homeopathic medicines for the whole family. Don’t let colds and flu run rampant in your house!
Cold and flu viruses can be transmitted by touching respiratory secretions on a person’s skin (like when playing Red Rover) or on surfaces and then touching the eyes, nose or mouth.
Tip: Pack a few items like a small personal crayon pack, an individual mini pencil sharpener or mechanical pencils to reduce kids sharing germs. While it’s polite to share, it’s not polite to share germs.
: Kids are notorious for not washing their hands—one simple way to avoid transmitting cold and flu bugs. They forget. They’ll insist their hands are clean. They’ll run water over their hands for two seconds without soap so they can rejoin their friends.
Tip: Get kids into the practice of washing their hands. Do it with them as a routine when they come home from school and before meals. The CDC recommends regularly scrubbing the hands for 15 seconds with warm, soapy water. Reinforce this practice around the house. We’ve all heard how to encourage children to wash for the length of two rounds of “Happy Birthday.”
: Cold and flu viruses can also be transmitted by inhaling infectious particles in the air (like respiratory secretions from a cough or sneeze).
Tip: Teach children to cough and sneeze into the corners of their elbows.
: Children may not yet have been taught—or truly absorbed—cold etiquette. They’re very likely to wipe their noses with their hands and are not likely to sneeze into the corners of their elbows. A sneeze can expel particles from the nose at more than 100 mph! Those fast-moving particles can cover an almost three-foot radius, and once airborne, can easily be inhaled by the next little guy standing nearby.
Tip: Provide children with pocket packets of tissues. Teach them how to use and discard tissues.
: Children aren’t likely to follow the suggestion of avoiding touching their nose, eyes or mouth as a simple way to reduce the chances of getting a cold or flu. This group is notorious for chewing on pencils and even sticking fingers and other objects up their noses!
Tip: You can’t control the classroom environment, but you can control what goes on in your home. Wash doorknobs, faucets, light switches, handrails on stairs, toys, remote controls, game controls and the family computer mouse. Also replace a child’s toothbrush monthly to prevent it being re-infected by bacteria collecting on the bristles.
: In addition to this age group being the least likely to observe germ-stopping protocol, they also remain contagious longer than adults. The period when an infected person is contagious depends on the age and health of the person. Studies show that most healthy adults may be able to infect others from one day prior to becoming sick and for five days after they first develop symptoms. However, some young children with still maturing immune systems may be contagious for longer than a week.
Tip: As a general rule, whatever objects receive the most touches have the most germs. Some viruses and bacteria can live from 20 minutes up to two hours or more on surfaces like cafeteria tables, playground equipment and desks.6 The good news is that cold and flu viruses can easily be killed with plain soap and warm water, non-alcohol- and alcoholic-based sanitizers or bleach solutions. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
- National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. Common cold. Available at: http://www3.niaid.nih.gov/topics/commonCold/overview.htm. Last accessed March 31, 2009.
- Mayo Clinic. Children’s health. Available at: www.mayoclinic.com/health/childrens-conditions/CC00059. Last accessed March 31, 2009.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Seasonal Flu Information for Schools & Childcare Providers. Available at: www.cdc.gov/flu/school/. Last accessed March 31, 2009.
- Fendrick AM, Monto AS, Nightengale B, Sarnes M. The economic burden of non-influenza-related viral respiratory tract infection in the United Sates. Arch Intern Med. 2003;163;487–494. Available at: http://archinte.ama-assn.org/. Last accessed March 31, 2009.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Colds and Flu: Time Only Sure Cure. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/fdac/features/896_flu.html. Last accessed March 31, 2009.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Seasonal Flu Information for Schools & Childcare Providers. (Ansari, 1988; Scott and Bloomfield, 1989) Last accessed at: www.cdc.gov/flu/school/. Accessed March 31, 2009.