Enterovirus and preventing illness in your home
Fall, one of the more radiantly beautiful seasons of the year, is finally upon us again and as parents, we know what that usually means! Back to school, sweaters, and the flu. This year in particular, there has been much concern regarding the Enterovirus in the eastern and central states. Every year, the colder seasons usually come with a cycle of colds and viruses and keeping them away is of every parent’s concern. So what is the Enterovirus and how can you prevent and protect your family from falling sick this fall?
What is Enterovirus?
Enterovirus is a non-polio respiratory virus that can cause mild to severe breathing problems, particularly in children with asthma. The strain that is currently traveling the United States is known as the Enterovirus D68. Symptoms mimic those of a cold: runny nose, sneezing, cough, body aches, and fever. More severe symptoms include wheezing and difficulty breathing; usually in children with a history of respiratory problems. The virus is spread just like the common cold, through sneezing, coughing, and touching a contaminated surface.
The CDC has confirmed that from Mid August through September 16th, 120 people across 13 states have been confirmed to have the illness caused by the Enterovirus. These states include: Alabama, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, New York, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania. Currently, children with respiratory illnesses from different parts of Washington have been admitted to Seattle Children’s hospital for testing to determine the virus or an uncommon strain of cold virus that typically hits in the Fall. There are no confirmed cases of the virus in Washington yet. The virus lasts about one week and most children recover without any lasting symptoms. Children with asthma or any kind of respiratory weakness though, are at higher risk for more serious symptoms. Like most viruses, there are no vaccines to prevent the illness and it must run it’s course. Only temporary relief from symptoms with medicine like cough syrup or pain relievers.
Whether effective cures are discovered or not, prevention is the best cure to any illness out there. Education of proper hygiene is one of the best tool you can give your kids to stay healthy and happy throughout their lives.
The first step in prevention is teaching your children to wash their hands, properly! Though it’s obvious, it cannot be stressed enough. 80% of infectious germs are spread by touch alone! Keeping toddlers from touching infected surfaces and covering coughs is near impossible which is why hand washing is realistic and most effective for younger children. Introduce your child at 1-2 years of age and let them play in the water and get comfortable with it. Pump some soap between their fingers and let them squish it around and play with it, just don’t let them eat it of course. Singing a song or practicing letters and numbers can distract them to lingering longer at the sink, enabling you to make sure they get a good wash.
Washing your toddler’s hands can be tricky, but making it fun is a learned art that will help you equip them with important hygiene skills. Experts suggest washing for at least 20 seconds with warm soapy water and any soap; the regular soap will be just as effective as antibacterial. If a sink and warm water aren’t available, use an alcohol based hand sanitizer and have your child rub it around until evaporated, about 20 seconds. Just don’t rely on hand sanitizers for keeping your child’s hands clean, use it only when warm water or soap is not available due to alcohol content.
When should you wash hands? It may seem obvious, but to kids it isn’t so. Encourage them to wash after blowing their nose and sneezing, coughing, touching their face, using the bathroom, and eating. The best method for teaching your child about hand washing is to do it yourself! When they see you wash, children are far more inclined to do it themselves; kids learn by influence. It is equally important for you to wash your hands for a few reasons: taking care of a sick child can also get you sick. Also, taking care of a sick child while you are sick is just miserable. Make hand washing a group activity!
Disinfect your home
When you have a sick child, it may seem inevitable that everyone in the house will get sick, but you can prevent spread by taking a few steps to eliminate germs. Keeping a clean home to prevent illness means keeping surfaces such as counter tops, door handles, and light switches sanitized. Also consider toys, toothbrushes stored in a shared cup, and chairs. Using wipes or a spray solution and paper towels, spray surfaces but allow it to rest for about 20 seconds, then wipe, ensuring that those germs are eliminated.
Besides the obvious surface sanitation, keep towels in both the kitchen and bathroom laundered regularly. Germs can hold in damp towels and cause anyone using them to become sick, especially hand towels used by everyone. Consider using disposable paper towels to prevent reduce germ spread. This sounds like a lot, but don’t make yourself go crazy in attempts to prevent germ spread, just do your best. You can’t follow your kids around disinfecting every little thing, its impossible! You can’t eliminate every germ in the house, but encouraging all members of your home to wash hands regularly will reduce the germ population greatly.
Keep your hands to yourself!
Literally, encourage your kids not to touch other children or food in the kitchen that is not going directly to their mouth. Encourage hand washing after eating and don’t let them share food and drinks with others in the home or with their friends. Oral transmission is another very common way to spread germs, so avoid sharing any food, beverage, or toys and binkys.
For parents, avoid preparing food if you can, and if you must, we cannot emphasize enough to wash your hands! Avoid breathing directly onto food as well. If your kids want a snack, remind them to wash before opening the fridge or prepare a snack for them. If possible, pack lunches for school the next day while you are washed up and preparing dinner the night before, or while preparing breakfast that morning.
Eat a healthy diet
This may seem obvious, but most people don’t get enough hydration or food intake while they are sick because they simply don’t feel up to it. Drinking plenty of water and liquid like tea and juice will help your body “flush” out the bug and heal more quickly. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains and try to avoid dairy since it promotes mucus production. Take in foods with vitamin C and D. Consider taking a supplement even before you ever become sick, especially in the area we live. Studies have shown that people in the Northwest area do not get enough sunlight which is processed as Vitamin D in the body which is necessary for strong immune support.
Ask any parent, or person for that matter, and they would prefer those who are sick to stay home from work or school. While it may be difficult for some families, it is important to think of others in your area of work and play. Think about it, if you didn’t stay home or keep your kids home from school for a day or two, and their playmates or a co worker became sick later down the road, you could become sick again yourself! While viral illnesses usually build an immunity in your body and remain a “one time deal”, bacterial illnesses such as the common cold could be caught multiple times a season. Keeping your kids home and taking a day off from work to rest will also help you to get healthy quicker. Taking time to rest and take care of yourself saves you more trouble than missing a day of work or school and not only getting others sick, but remaining sick yourself due to lack of needed rest to recover.
But Keep in mind…
You can’t know and predict when your child will get sick. While trying to prevent germ spread is a noble goal, it can spread quickly, especially in the home. You can try though! For instance, you could kiss your kids on their heads rather than their cheeks for a few days. You could ask your spouse to read the bedtime stories and baths for a few nights if you are sick. Though taking these precautions could result in becoming sick anyways, you don’t know if doing so could also prevent the rest of your family or even one of you from becoming sick as well! . But obviously, you can’t be so careful in your efforts to prevent germs from spreading that you feel like you’re shunning your kids or initiating a lockdown. So, why not try and while you are at it, use some of these suggestions to be proactive this cold and flu season!