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Germs Are Lurking Everywhere

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

Thank goodness it is February, as I have been sounding like a broken record as I go from exam room to exam room discussing the various illnesses we pediatricians are seeing right now.

This is the time of year, every year, that our offices are full, and the parents of our patients (as well as the doctors and nurses) are beginning to be weary of the “sick season”. Unfortunately, there are still at least 6–8 weeks left of the winter season, as evident by the weather patterns across the country.  With frigid temperatures, ice, snow and sleet over 2/3 of the country there doesn’t seem to be a slowdown in the number of sick children either.

The most common question I hear is “ how do we keep catching something, and we don’t go anywhere”, while this is followed by the other common statement, “I have spent the entire day sanitizing my house, and we are still getting sick”.

I must say, I recall winter months with 3 young children when I know I even said these things, or at least thought them to myself !! With little children in the home the germs are rampant, and the more children you have the more germs you have. Seems like it is exponential.

There isn’t enough Clorox or Lysol to kill those germs, as many of them are spread by aerosol droplets that cannot be scrubbed away before they are inhaled into our mucous membranes and there they multiply.  As much as we want to “get those germs out of the house”, spending hours a day washing every surface, every toy and every object in site, it is an exercise in futility and only serves to make one even more frustrated.

That is not to say that I don’t believe in good hand washing and covering your mouth when coughing, but watching parents wipe down every surface (the grocery cart, the swing set, the high chair in a restaurant), just makes me chuckle a bit.  As much as one thinks that this is protecting a child from every germ, it most likely only sells a lot of hand sanitizer and wipes.  Viruses are ubiquitous right now, and even a mother’s wrath is not big enough to stop the mighty cold and flu virus.

The best way to prevent these viruses (and bacterial infections) is to abide the age old advice of:  Get a good night’s sleep, eat healthy meals, practice good hand hygiene and get your child vaccinated against the diseases that we can prevent, including flu.  If your child does become ill and has a fever keep them home from day care and preschool.

Older children who do not feel well and have a fever need to stay home too, even if they have a big test or athletic event. I see plenty of children everyday who have gone to school, but became ill while they were there, and they were already shedding viral particles (no fault of their own). That can happen to all of us, you never know when you are going to get sick, so can’t plan on staying home “just in case”.

On the other hand, I also see many children who had a fever during the night or who vomited but “seemed better by morning” who are sent to day care and school.  Those children should not be going. Rule of thumb, your child needs to be fever free for 24 hours, without an antipyretic medication, before they return to school.  If a child vomits they too should stay home for a day to see if they develop other symptoms or continue to vomit etc.  Don’t rush to return your child to school when they are not yet feeling well. They will feel better at home and will not expose others to their germs.

The good news is that we are halfway through the winter!!  Young children do get more illnesses, but with each illness they become a little stronger as their immune system is boosted and they begin to make antibodies against the many common viral infections of childhood.  Once your youngest child turns 3 years of age, you will see that you have fewer illnesses in the home and fewer trips to the pediatrician.  In the meantime, don’t spend hours trying to “wash the germs right out of the house” but rather spend the time watching an old movie, or playing a board game with your child while they are home sick.  Make lemonade out of lemons, and keep washing those hands.

That’s your daily dose for today. Have a comment? Leave it below!

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