In the new "super flu" era, who among us hasn't thought of bundling up our kiddos in hats, gloves, and surgical masks this winter? Better yet, how about plastic bubbles? (Remember that true story?) Pediatricians' offices have been fielding calls and visits from worried moms since news of the novel flu strain -- originally called "swine flu" but now known officially as the H1N1 virus -- broke last spring and a global pandemic was declared. Yikes! How concerned should you really be? "You should take H1N1 seriously because the flu is a serious thing, but it's not necessarily any worse than other flu strains," says David Goldberg, M.D., chief of pediatric infectious diseases at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Paterson, NJ. What you should watch for in your family: the usual flu symptoms of fever, cough, sore throat, congestion, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. In addition, a significant number of H1N1 sufferers have experienced vomiting and diarrhea.
The good news is that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been reporting from the onset of the outbreak that most H1N1 victims have experienced only mild symptoms, and at press time that continues to be the case. But there's still a lot that's unknown, and that's the main reason people are freaking out. Scientists can't predict how the H1N1 virus will behave or what its potential for harm is. What they are sure of: the same illness-prevention strategies that you already know are the key to beating back the flu and other pesky winter bugs. Follow our easy stay-well prescription and watch your family thermometer collect dust in the medicine cabinet. Your most uneventful cold-and-flu season ever awaits!
- Wipe down the handle of your shopping cart, the doorknobs of public bathrooms, even your kid's menu (just think how many tots have licked the photo of that ice cream sundae).
- Bring your own books, toys, or a portable video game to play with at the doctor's office. Yes, offices clean their toys, but the odds are huge that a sick kid had his hands on them not long before you arrived.
- Use your own pen at the doctor's office, pharmacy, and checkout counter (adults carry germs, too!).
- Spray down the bathroom with a household disinfectant such as Lysol or Clorox Clean-Up if a family member has been sick. Other germ magnets that could use a spritz: phones, remote controls, microwaves, and refrigerator door handles. You can also spray down toys at the end of the day -- once the disinfectant dries, it's no longer hazardous.
- Try not to hug soiled linens close to you to avoid spreading germs from dirty laundry to your body. Wash your hands afterward.
- Sanitize like crazy if you go to an indoor play space!
The immune system functions better with a healthy diet, notes Atlanta pediatrician Jennifer Shu, M.D., the coauthor of Food Fights, so kick off your family's day with a breakfast rich in protein and colorful fruits and vegetables. Think pepper-packed omelettes, broccoli or spinach quiche, pumpkin or zucchini breads. Be sure to include some whole-grain carbohydrates to keep them pumped until the lunch bell rings. Start a healthy competition to see who can eat the most colorful foods over a week. Post a chart in your kitchen and have everyone fill in what they had daily. Got a kid who tolerates only one food group (toast, anyone?)? Ask your doctor about giving him a multivitamin to make sure he's getting all the nutrients he needs, recommends Dr. Shu.