It’s no coincidence that the school year and the common cold season start about the same time. Schools provide an ideal setting for spreading germs, with children indoors and in close contact for much of the day. As infected people sniffle, sneeze, and cough, cold viruses spread through the air and onto skin and surfaces like tables, doorknobs, and stair railings, where they can live for up to two hours.
Kids bear the brunt of seasonal illnesses, typically picking up six to 10 colds a year compared with the two to four colds adults get, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The Centers for Disease Control chalks up 22 million school absences each year to colds alone. The good news is that kids can greatly reduce their risk of getting or spreading a cold with healthy habits and good hygiene. These include:
- Washing hands thoroughly
- Coughing and sneezing into a tissue or sleeve, not into hands
- Not sharing drinks or food utensils
- Not rubbing one’s nose and eyes
- Not biting fingernails or chewing on pencils
One of the main ways people catch colds is by rubbing their eyes or nose after touching a person or object with a cold virus. Hand-washing can help ward off the common cold and many other communicable illnesses; however, most people don’t wash their hands well enough or often enough.
The CDC recommends washing hands with soap and water for 15 to 20 seconds, or long enough to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. When you’re not near hand-washing facilities, alcohol-based hand sanitizers can do the trick. Younger kids may be tempted to taste the hand sanitizer, which can spread more germs and could make them sick. To prevent this, teach kids to rub their hands together until the sanitizer dries.
Although many of us were taught to cover our mouths or noses with our hands when we cough or sneeze, health experts now say that this can spread germs even faster. The CDC recommends coughing or sneezing into a tissue, or into your sleeve if a tissue is not available.
In addition to avoiding germs and washing hands, your family can stay healthier during cold season by getting sufficient sleep and exercise, drinking plenty of water, and eating a nutritious diet.