The 2022 – 2023 school year has seen an early surge in seasonal respiratory illnesses — the much publicized “tripledemic” of RSV, influenza, and COVID.
Luckily, available public health data shows that as of early January, case rates of flu and RSV in Alabama and the Wiregrass Region are well below the peaks seen in early fall. Community levels of COVID transmission remain low in the area, but a new COVID variant (XBB 1.5) and recent holiday gatherings are expected to bring an increase in cases. What can parents do to keep their kids healthy during the second half of the school year?
- Vaccines — Keep your children up to date on routine vaccinations. A recent measles outbreak in Ohio among unvaccinated children is a reminder that high vaccination rates are important to protect individuals and communities from preventable illnesses. Safe and effective vaccines against influenza and COVID are available for all children six months of age and older. RSV vaccines are in development and under review by the FDA but are not yet available.
- Hand washing — Teach your children how and when to wash hands effectively. Hand washing is a simple and powerful tool to prevent illness. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ website for parents, healthychildren.org and Sesame Street’s community outreach website, sesamestreetincommunities.org, have good tips on hand washing for toddlers and early school-aged children.
- Support a healthy body — Aside from vaccination, there are no proven ways to “boost” a child’s immune system. Still, some commonsense habits can keep your children healthier throughout cold and flu season.
Good nutrition is foundational for overall health. Help your kids eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Avoid sugary beverages and heavily processed junk foods. The USDA’s website myplate.gov has tips for eating healthy at every age and stage of life, and a useful guide to eating healthy on a budget.
Encourage plenty of exercise, at least an hour each day for most children. Consider finding ways to be active together as a family. Modeling healthy behaviors can help your children build healthy habits for life.
Finally, don’t overlook the importance of getting enough high-quality sleep. Sleep has complex effects on health. Poor sleep has been linked to several chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, depression, and obesity. Toddlers need 11 – 14 hours of sleep daily (including naps), while school age children require 9 – 12 hours, and adolescents should aim for 8 – 10 hours nightly. If your child isn’t meeting these guidelines, talk to your pediatrician about how to promote healthier sleep.
While good health begins at home, your pediatrician is a ready partner in helping your children be as healthy as they can be.