Thursday, December 02, 2010

Germs, germs, germs

With the winter season, along with the snow and the decorations and the holiday cheer, also comes all our little friendly viral illnesses. Upper respiratory infections, gastroenteritis, pharyngitis, bronchiolitis. And sometimes they invite their bacterial friends, that lead to little parties in your bodies known as ear infections, strep throat, pneumonia.

The average child gets between 6-10 colds (viral upper respiratory infections) per year.  This is your typical stay-at-home child.  A child who attends daycare will get 8-12 colds per year. Most URIs last 7-10 days, but can linger up to 2 weeks. So, therefore, a child who attends daycare may have some combination of runny nose and cough for 6 months of the year.  I cannot tell you how many times I ask a parent, "How long has the congestion and drainage been going on?" and then they snort and laugh and say "For months!"

There is good news to this. Over time we develop our immune system.  When we are young, all these illnesses are new to our bodies. When we fight an infection, our immune system has to start from scratch to develop antibodies to fight the illness. After the illness, we do have lasting antibody memory.  The next time we get exposed to the same or similar illness, we are better able to fight it off.  What might be a full force 10 days of congestion and cough in your 18 month old may be just a few days of mild congestion in you.  Kids in daycare, although they are sick more frequently in the early years, tend to have less illness when the become school age children than those who stayed home.

I think some of the best ways to stay healthy are adequate sleep, nutrition and hydration, along with frequent (but not obsessive) handwashing.  Although studies do indicate alcohol-based sanitizers are more effective than soap and water (if your hands are not visibly contaminated with bodily fluids), I prefer soap and water.  Using sanitizer before and every patient just does not FEEL as clean to me. Also, my hands get very dry in the winter, and that stuff STINGS!

So this brings me to the main point of the post. In the winter, how crazy do you get about staying home and away from crowds?

When my kids were younger, we avoided the hands-on children's museum in the winter, McDonald's playlands all year round, and any other possibly heavily germ infested surfaced. Now that they are older, they get sick less frequently, they are less prone to ear infections, and they are both in school with 19 other potentially infectious classmates each.

When I took my kids to a local indoor inflatable playplace about 1.5 weeks ago, I prided myself on how far I had come.

Until 36 hours later.

That's when they both woke at 3 am (within 5 minutes of each other!) vomiting. And everyone was up the rest of the night, except for the dog.

I'm not saying we couldn't have gotten this elsewhere (door handles, grocery carts, school, playground, swim class, etc), but it seems pretty suspicious to me.

No comments: