How to stay healthy when your kids are sick

When your child is sick, it's common to put your own health on hold. But catching the same flu bug won't help matters. Here's how to stay healthy when you're caring for a child with the flu

By Lisa Bendall

How to stay healthy when your kids are sick

When your kids are sick, you’re on duty. You wipe their runny noses, comfort them when they cough, let them nap in your bed. That means lots of close contact in a closed environment. So how can you keep yourself from catching the same bug that has your kid down for the count? These six tips will help you stay healthy while you’re caring for a child with the flu.

1. Get yourself immunized

The seasonal flu shot offers parents the best protection against catching the flu from their kids. But it takes two weeks to take full effect, so be sure to get immunized before your child comes home coughing, aching and highly contagious. Squeamish about needles? An inhaled vaccine called FluMist was approved this year for use in Canada. Instead of a stick in the arm, you can now get a pain-free spray in the nose.

2. Show your kid where coughs go

Coughing politely into your hand? That’s so last century. Teach your child to cough into his arm or into a tissue, if he’s old enough to learn. Model this behaviour yourself to help him catch on. If he’s too young to control his coughs, be sure to stay out of the line of fire by turning your head when he hacks, especially if you’re within a metre of him. “Try not to be in the spray the kid is producing,” says Dr. Pierre Lebel, a microbiologist and infectious diseases specialist at McGill University Health Centre in Montreal, adding: “Young kids secrete more virus particles than an adult, because their immune systems are not as strong.”

3. Wash your hands all day long

Be a handwashing machine. Wash your hands after wiping your sick child’s nose, after handling her tissues, after taking away her lunch tray or after picking up her toys. “Frequently, after parents handle the child, they touch their nose or eyes, and that’s it – they catch the virus through indirect contact,” says Dr. Lebel. “We touch our faces many time per hour and don’t know it.” Be sure to scrub all areas of your hands, including between your fingers. Turn the tap off using a paper towel or your elbow – not your hand, or you could contaminate yourself all over again.

4. Clean up the virus so it can’t languish

Live influenza viruses can linger on doorknobs, faucets, cupboard handles and toys for anywhere from two hours to two days. To protect yourself from picking it up, clean any surfaces that may have been touched by your flu-infested child. Any household soap or disinfectant will do. These products dilute the virus so it’s less potent. For runny noses and coughs, using virucidal or virus-killing facial tissues (like those marked “anti-viral”) can also make a difference.

5. Limit the close contact

Of course you want to dole out lots of hugs when your child is feeling miserable. But be aware that the more you touch her, the more you’re at risk for catching her bug. “As cute as your little baby is, if someone’s sick you don’t kiss them on the mouth,” says family physician Dr. Jonathan Kerr in Belleville, Ontario. When you’re soothing your sick child, try stroking her hair or rubbing her back instead of smooching her face.

6. Care for yourself, not just your kid

Looking after a kid who’s unwell often means you’re up for hours in the night, and grabbing quick snacks when you can. But in order for you to fight the flu effectively, you need to eat nutritious meals and get plenty of rest and exercise. Try to make sure you don’t shortchange your own needs. Remind yourself that you’re a much better parent when you’re in the pink.

If you’re parenting with a partner, take turns on call. “It’s not always possible, but try to share the caregiving if you can,” says Dr. Lebel. “This will reduce by half your chances of getting the disease.” Getting spelled off will also give you a chance to rest and tend to your own needs.

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