Some Things Old and Some Things New & Some Things Never Change
Let’s repeat the basics. Most Winter illness is viral and spreads through body fluid contact. What fluid is this, you might ask? I speak of air-borne (and hand-borne) small droplets of saliva and mucus that sprays from our mouths and noses when we sneeze or cough. This means when one has a cold and/or sore throat, no matter how young or how old we are or how sick we feel, we will ALWAYS be contagious to others.
So one of life’s lessons we want to teach our children is how NOT TO SHARE these body fluids, when they are ill. Now here’s a fact most people don’t know:
Viruses commonly live in our noses and mouths intermittently and episodically even when one is completely well__without symptoms of illness at all. This is called viral shedding and it happens frequently, and we have no clue that we are contagious! Yes, you can be infectious to others even when you are completely well. Who knew!?
So another life lesson that we should teach our kids is not to share saliva or mucus with others even when one is well. If you think we don’t do this all the time, think again. Kids and adults share gum, pizza, cookies, cupcakes, drinks, utensils, toys, etc without a second thought when they are well, and often when they are ill. This is a behavior that can be altered more easily when one is sick, but occurs unconsciously when we are well. I am not saying we should make our kids phobic, over-anxious or compulsive about germs, or ourselves, for that matter, but that good hygiene habits of behavior are in the best interest of everyone.
Since it is fairly obvious that saliva sharing is a fact of life__like frequently touching our faces with our hands unconsciously every day__teaching our kids and ourselves how to contend with this reality is another life lesson to learn. It’s called handwashing and the use of hand sanitizers safely. Sounds like a simple thing to teach our kids, but it is not. As parents we want handwashing to become an automatic behavior, not just something the kids do when we are watching and ask them to do it. We want them to do it at school, when they are out with their friends, and at home before sitting down to a meal, for example.
Believe it or not, it’s never too late to learn this behavior [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxlQn7KaCNU].
Handsanitizers [https://www.livestrong.com/article/88193-hand-sanitizer-kill-bacteria/] with greater than or equal to 60% alcohol are effective hand-hygiene products but they should not be licked off the hands. So allowing young children under 5 years old to use them independently without supervision is not safe, since hands often end up in mouths. As soon as the hands are dry (after waving them in the air for a few seconds) there is no danger. Of course the sanitizing benefit of these products are short term since hands rapidly touch the world and end up in mouth not long after. But you have to start somewhere. Choosing time and place to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a good idea. You can’t do it every 5 minutes through the day but certain situations, like the petting zoo, necessitate applying sanitizer frequently. After visiting a public restroom, even if you’ve washed your hands, is another good time to use sanitizer. Remember to use it when visiting the mall or taking your seat at a movie theater (or leaving the theater), and after using an escalator in the mall or airport. What these places have in common is that they are all public, meaning the world has touched all the areas you and your children are touching as you go through the day.
Sanitizer hand wipes are OK, but my guess is they are used less effectively than the gels which can be rubbed into tiny spaces on cuticles and between fingers by you and your children very easily. And there is no tissue to dispose of afterwards.
I don’t have anything against against hand washing. It’s great if you have the time to do it, but when you don’t hand sanitizers come to your rescue.
So that’s hand care. What about cough and sneeze hygiene? Not complicated. Most grown ups were taught to cover their mouths with their hands when they were kids. No question this is polite, but think about it..... totally ineffective in preventing the spread of body fluid (saliva and runny nose juice) between people since our hands then go on to touch other people and objects.
Today, kids in preschool and nursery school are being taught correctly, the 21st century way, the Elbow Cough-Cover. It’s quick and readily accessible and in itself NOT impolite to whip your elbow to your face and cover your mouth and nose with your elbow. Sure, no question, you will have germs on your elbow, but NOT YOUR HANDS! You can teach this to your children of all ages. You can role model it as well.
A cute story I like to tell kids this time of year (with parent permission if Santa comes to their house) goes like this: Santa doesn’t visit a home by himself. It’s a lot of work to deliver presents to good children all over the world, so he brings some of his helpers along in the sled. All the helpers want to go with him. (Remember the movie “Elf”. Good thing all the elves aren’t the size of Will Ferrell.) Some of the elves have colds, coughs and runny noses. So they have to know how to cover their face properly when they cough and sneeze. Santa doesn’t want elf germs to get on everyone’s gifts. So Santa’s helpers who can cover their faces with their elbows get to go, but the helpers who don’t know how, stay at the North Pole with Mrs. Clause practicing the Elbow-Cough-Cover so they can go with Santa next year. The punchline: Santa likes it when kids cover their faces with their elbows too when they cough and sneeze. I guess you can always add that the elves have to take and use their hand sanitizer every time before they go down the chimney with Santa to help deliver the presents.
If you like this parable, feel free to use it. No copyright on it as far as I know, since I made it up.
One more thing about our hands, we use them almost always to greet others__hand to hand shake. It’s social and appropriate and certain to transmit illness back and forth with every greeting. So why not greet one another with an elbow-bump or a fist-bump through the Winter virus season? Seems like such an easy solution, if we could only make it the social norm [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYtLQc0YaMo]. If we could just get our media-TV physician personalities, like Dr. Oz and Dr. Gupta and Dr. Snyderman, to endorse the social greeting elbow-bump, this greeting could sweep the nation. Well, we do what we can, us parents and physicians. Maybe our preschool and school teachers could teach this greeting, just as they teach the elbow-cough-cover technique. Bring it up at your next PTA meeting.
One More Time About Influenza Vaccine
I can administer the appropriate influenza vaccine to your children, yourselves and close family, sitters, nannies, etc. who share time with your family. These vaccines can be offered through Winter and early Spring to enhance protection against the Flu and Pertussis among all persons over the age of 6 months. Unfortunately, there is no Flu vaccine as of yet for infants under the age of 6 months.
We should also be aware that when we immunize, we are not just protecting ourselves and our families. We are also helping those in our community who cannot get immunized because of weakened immunity from advancing age, illness disease, cancer or chemotherapy. They depend upon the rest of us to do what we can to protect them from these diseases by keeping our vaccines current. If you believe that we are our brothers’ keepers and have an obligation not to make others seriously ill through immunization apathy, please give this issue serious thought and consider staying current with your vaccines even if you have never had the flu and don’t think that Whooping Cough will make you very sick.
Please call Shelly (404-654-0426) or me or shoot us a text message and I will get back to you to schedule a house visit for the vaccine(s) you request:
Fluzone® Influenza Virus Vaccine, Contains No Preservative: Pediatric Dose Children 6-35 months of age (Single-dose, prefilled syringe, without needle, 0.25 mL) also available for over 35 months of age through adult years.
You can learn more about this and all vaccines at www.immunize.org.
If my Influenza vaccine supplies run out, you should still be able to find the vaccine at your local neighborhood pharmacies for a while longer yet.