By Patricia Billinger
Special to The SUN
Health officials are reporting widespread influenza outbreaks in 47 of 50 states, up from just a week ago.
One age group hit particularly hard is children, and the American Red Cross has some steps parents can teach their kids to help them avoid getting sick.
Some children have gotten so sick they have had to be hospitalized. According to the Centers for Disease Control, while some of the children hospitalized had underlying medical conditions such as asthma, more than 40 percent of hospitalized children had no other medical conditions.
Kids have a way of picking up colds and other illnesses. Parents should teach children proper hand washing techniques and how to correctly cover coughs or sneezes. Washing hands properly is an important step to avoid getting the flu. Wash hands with soap and warm water. When using soap and water:
• Wash for at least 20 seconds, covering the entire hand including fingernails and under jewelry. Younger children can be taught to sing a short song like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” or the “Happy Birthday” song a few times, which will ensure they wash for at least 20 seconds.
• Rinse and dry thoroughly with a disposable towel.
• Use the towel to turn off the faucet.
If using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer:
• Rub thoroughly over the entire hand, including nail areas and between the fingers.
• Continue to rub until the product dries.
The Scrub Club
The American Red Cross and NSF International have collaborated to help parents and teachers reinforce kids’ hand-washing habits. The Scrub Club is an interactive website that offers free materials to raise awareness about the benefits of hand washing to fight germs and prevent illness. The website features cartoon Webisodes featuring seven soaper-heroes and comes complete with educational materials, music and games. Visit ScrubClub.org for more information.
Sneezing and coughing
If a child has to cough or sneeze, parents should teach them to cover their mouth and nose with a tissue and wash their hands afterwards. If they don’t have a tissue, they should be taught to cough or sneeze into their elbow or upper arm, not their hands.
Kids should also be taught to avoid sharing such things as utensils, cups and bottles, and to keep their hands away from their eyes, nose and mouth.
The most important thing parents can do is get children six months of age or older a flu vaccine, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. Children’s caregivers should also get vaccinated. Other steps parents can take include:
• Keep surfaces like bedside tables, surfaces in the bathroom, kitchen counters and toys for children clean by wiping them down with a household disinfectant.
• If someone in the household is sick, try to keep the sick person in a separate room from others in the household, if possible.
If a child gets sick, parents should consult their doctor. They should also make sure their child gets plenty of rest and fluids. If the child is breathing fast or having trouble breathing, has bluish or gray skin color, refuses to drink, is vomiting, is irritable or has trouble staying awake, parents should get the child medical help right away. The child should stay home from school or day care until at least 24 hours after their fever is gone.
Information on what to do if someone has the flu is available as part of the free Red Cross First Aid mobile app available for iPhone and Android devices. You can find more information about how to help keep you and your loved ones protected by visiting redcross.org/FluTips.