Keeping the Bugs at Bay
An edited version of this article appeared in Time Out Abu Dhabi Kids in October 2008 – find it online here.
Between the grimy hands of fellow students, the strange germs imported from every corner of the globe, and the impending change in the weather, it seems an unavoidable certainty that sooner or later, your kids will come home from school sick. With a little vigilance, however, there’s a lot you can do to prevent those inevitable runny noses. We spoke with Dr Alya Ahmad at the American Primary Care Clinic in Dubai Healthcare City for some tips on how to keep those germs on the defensive.
Wash Those Hands
The very best first line of defence against germs, says Dr Ahmad, is to keep your hands clean. “Certain types of viruses can live on cold surfaces for many hours,” says Dr Ahmad, former Clinical Assistant Professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. “If you can train your children to wash their hands before and after they eat, before and after they use the toilet, and as soon as they arrive home everyday, you can avoid many of the germs they will encounter at school.”
Give it a Wipe
Even better than hand washing, which requires a certain amount of technique to be really effective, are hand sanitizers. The youngest school child can carry a mini tube or package of antibacterial wipes in his bag to keep his hands clean—Dr Ahmad suggests looking for a brand with low alcohol content and a bit of aloe vera. Want to really whack the germs on the head? Gift your child’s teacher with a jumbo can of wipes so she can give those desks a once over once a day.
Despite the balmy weather, the UAE still has a flu season. The good news is that the flu vaccination is available, so take advantage. Dr Ahmad maintains that the flu is often preventable with the vaccination, and it’s worth the investment to keep you kids protected. The same goes double when it comes to the chicken pox vaccination—you could let your kid suffer through this wretched virus (which is better to defeat during childhood), but why? Also, check to make sure your child’s general vaccination record is up to date. “I work as a school physician at three schools in Dubai, and many of the children I see haven’t had all the vaccinations they need,” says Dr Ahmad. Requirements for schools vary so check with your doctor if you’re not sure.
Pump Up the Vitamin C
“Studies have shown that the antioxidants in vitamin C really do improve the immune system when taken in high doses,” says Dr Ahmad, an active member and Fellow of the American Academy of Paediatrics and a committee member for school health care and international health policy. Just how high a dose remains unclear, but taking a vitamin supplement certainly can’t hurt. A water soluble vitamin, you can’t take too much vitamin C as your body will simply discard what it doesn’t need through the urine. Yummy chewable, sugar free, gluten free multi-vitamin and multi-mineral supplements are available for kids at most pharmacies.
The Whole Fruit Solution
Though juices are good for kids, nothing beats whole raw fruits and vegetables for improving the diet. “A well-balanced diet will give your child better cell function, which will allow the immune system to work better,” says Dr Ahmad, who spent five years as staff physician at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. “A study of multiple schools and day care centres showed that many children starting at age five are not getting enough of the nutrients their bodies need. Supplements should only add to good nutrition, not replace it.”
Water, the Great Panacea
We’ve heard it a thousand times before, but Dr Ahmad emphasizes that drinking six to eight glasses of water a day will cure much of what ails you. If you don’t drink enough water, the liver is forced to help your kidneys do their job; drinking water keeps the kidneys functioning properly, leaving the liver free to process and remove more serious pollutants from your body. A rule to live by—the solution to pollution is dilution.
Children need at least six to eight hours of sleep every night and teens may need even more. Make sure your kids get plenty of sleep; Dr Ahmad points out that a sleep deprived body is more susceptible to disease.
Though it may be tough to spot, if you can recognize the signs that your child is coming down with a fever, Dr. Ahmad says you should definitely keep them home from school. Fever leaves the body exposed to infection, so pay attention if your child complains of head/body aches or seems listless and miserable. Most school policies dictate, furthermore, that kids need to be free of fever for 24 hours before returning to school. Germs that go around have a way of coming around, so allowing your child to pass on her illness to her classmates is an excellent way of making sure that her bug finds its way back to your house again.
Don’t Be Rash
Keep a close eye on rashes that might be contagious. Dr Ahmad recommends watching for signs that your child has been scratching or if more than one person in the house has the same rash. You don’t want to spread a rash to your child’s whole class; otherwise, your kid might be well just in time to pick it up again.
Though a certain amount of childhood sickness is a fact of life, taking a few pre-emptive measures can go a long way towards keeping your kids in their classrooms and out of the nurse’s office. As noted scholar Desiderius Erasmus once said, prevention is better than cure.