When your child goes back to school, you want to be excited about all they’ll learn this year, not worried about sick days in their future. But each year, 22 million school days are lost due to the common cold alone.
For most kids, a cold or the flu means a day or two on the couch. But for those with a disability or chronic health condition, it can mean weeks in the hospital. To prevent your child’s school year from being sidetracked, it’s important to be extra vigilant to keep germs away before and after the bell rings.
Why colds and the flu are so dangerous to kids with special needs
For kids with chronic health conditions or disabilities, including neurological disorders, cancer, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, and heart disease, flu season can be extra hard on them for a number of reasons:
- Their weakened immune systems make it harder for the body to fight off invading germs.
- The flu increases their risk of developing complications or exacerbates their medical condition. For instance, children who struggle with muscle function due to a neurological condition may have problems clearing fluids from their airways, putting them at greater risk for pneumonia.
- Children with autism spectrum disorder or another developmental disability may be hypersensitive to symptoms, or on the opposite end, be unable to communicate their discomfort.
Steps you can take to protect your student this school year
Schools are party central for cold and flu germs. While kids are cracking their books, germs are running wild thanks to dry indoor air, close quarters and hundreds of little runny noses. Putting a few smart practices in action at home and at school can keep germs at bay all the way through May.
- Get your child vaccinated. The flu vaccine is safe for most children over six months of age, even those with a disability or chronic health problem. In fact, a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found the vaccine reduces flu-associated death by half for children with high-risk medical issues. For most children, the nasal spray vaccine is the easiest option, but if they have a neurologic or neuromuscular disorder, many physicians recommend the flu shot
- Grab a water bottle. The top spot for school germs is the water fountain, especially in elementary school where kids still tend to put their mouths right on the faucet. Tell the school you would prefer that your child brings a water bottle from home to drink from due to their increased risk of exposure.
- Teach your child proper hygiene. Tell your child how important it is to wash with soap and water throughout the day. Kids should scrub their hands for about 30 seconds—about the time it takes them to sing their ABCs. Encourage your child to use their classroom’s hand sanitizer when a sink’s not available.
- Reward good habits. Even the littlest preschooler can learn to cough into their sleeve instead of their hands, blow their nose into a tissue, and avoid sharing cups or silverware with their friends. To help make these habits stick, create a sticker chart to reward your child when you see them practicing good behaviors.
- Jump into action as soon as possible. If your child does come down the flu, it’s essential to act quickly to avoid an escalation of symptoms. Children should be treated with antivirals within 48 hours of the first flu signs and get plenty of rest. Keep an eye out for symptoms that require a visit to the ER, such as shallow breathing, chest pain, diarrhea, or clammy skin.
Good prevention starts at home
Giving children a healthy foundation at home better protects them once they head out the door for school. Making sure every member of your family is vaccinated, focusing on cleaning and disinfecting your home, and model
ing good hygiene practices can reduce the risk of complications if your child has a disability. Here at Handicare, we take that care a step further by providing a number of antimicrobial-coated products such as our lifting slings used by our young patients to prevent the spread of germs at home. To learn more about our infection control practices, contact us today.