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Protecting Your Child From Infections

Topic Overview

Disease-causing germs spread anytime large numbers of people are together or when people share items. Germs spread more easily during the colder months, because people spend a lot of time indoors around one another. Close and frequent contact with others makes it easier for germs to spread.

Immunizations help protect your child from vaccine-preventable infections. Most are given as shots. They:

  • Protect your child from dangerous diseases and help to keep disease from spreading.
  • Cost less than getting treated for the diseases.
  • Have very few serious side effects.
  • Often are needed before a child can attend school or day care.

You can also practice the following basic hygiene and preventive measures to help prevent illness.

Basic hygiene at home, day care, or school

It's impossible to protect your child from all contagious illnesses. But you can teach healthy habits to help reduce your child's risk of infections. Teach your child:

  • That germs spread when people touch their eyes, nose, and mouth before washing their hands. Teach your child to cough or sneeze into his or her arm, so that the mouth stays covered. Children should wash their hands each time they use the toilet and after they blow their nose, especially if drainage gets on their hands. Teach your child to dry his or her hands thoroughly after washing them. Using hand sanitizers also kills germs that can cause illness.
  • Not to share hats, combs, toothbrushes, eating utensils, or other personal items with other children. Teach your child not to share food, drinks, or silverware with others.
  • To use tissues and to cover the mouth when coughing or sneezing. Show your child how to hold the tissues so that drainage doesn't get on his or her hands. Tell your child to always throw away tissues in a trash can.
  • To use only clean, dry paper towels and tissues. Teach your child not to handle tissues or paper towels used by other children.
  • Not to touch other children's blood, urine, stool, or other drainage. Teach your child to tell an adult caregiver if another child is bleeding or accidentally urinates or passes a stool.

Children younger than age 2 need a caregiver's help to prevent the spread of germs. Wash your child's hands frequently, and disinfect shared toys. If your child attends day care, closely review the policies regarding sick children and hygiene issues.

If your child becomes ill, keep him or her out of day care and away from other children until the contagious period has passed. If you are unsure about how long this should be, contact your doctor.

Keep your child away from secondhand smoke. Smoke irritates the mucous membranes in your child's nose, sinuses, and lungs, making infections more likely.

Basic hygiene in other public areas

When in a public area, such as an airport or restaurant, be aware of the risk of exposure to germs that can make you and your child ill.

  • Avoid people with an obvious illness (such as a person who is coughing or sneezing).
  • Don't be afraid to tell others, especially those you don't know, not to touch your child.
  • Do not let your child eat, or touch his or her mouth, eyes, or nose, until his or her hands are thoroughly washed with soap and water.
  • Make sure your utensils, table, and general eating area are clean.
  • If your child is in day care, make sure good hygiene practices are followed. These include regular sanitation of facilities and toys, sanitary food preparation, proper bathroom procedures and cleaning, and procedures for when children become ill.
  • Try to avoid public areas in certain situations. For example, your doctor may recommend keeping your newborn or child with health problems away from large crowds during outbreaks of disease.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer Thomas Emmett Francoeur, MD, MDCM, CSPQ, FRCPC - Pediatrics
Current as of June 4, 2014

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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