As parents can tell when bundling up their child before they head out to trick or treat, a chillier season has arrived. And with cold comes the flu season, when more time spent indoors means more opportunities for the virus to spread.
Some pediatricians have had their shipment of flu vaccines for almost two months, and other organizations are pushing influenza prevention through vaccination as well. One of these, Say Boo to the Flu, ties its efforts to Halloween -- having children dress up in costume for a night of games where they and their families can get flu shots.
Fortunately, Halloween doesn't seem to be a major source of flu-related illnesses. Children following typical healthy advice, like like washing their hands before digging into their cornucopias of candy, can expect to avoid any long-lasting effects from what might be their favorite night of the year.
The flu virus may already have reached your neighborhood, but even if your neighbors have it, it isn't likely to be passed on by what they hand out. So, while candy should be checked to make sure it is unopened, don't go overboard by washing candy wrappers.
"It would be a relatively unusual way to get flu," said Dr. Lindsey Grossman, head of pediatrics at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass. "Usually, someone would have needed to sneeze or cough right on the wrapper."
But because of the season, it probably isn't too soon to start thinking of other ways to help your children avoid the flu. With that in mind, we present 10 ways you can help children avoid catching the flu.
One important thing to note is that anti-virals, which can shorten the length of a flu, can be given to children a year of age or older but must be administered within 48 hours of the start of symptoms. So, as with adults, if these tips don't help, you may be able to minimize the illness by acting quickly.
Given the number of sick children who enter a pediatrician's office, it should come as no surprise that the toys there are laden with viruses.
Dr. Diane Pappas, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Virginia, recently looked at the amount of virus RNA (viruses' genetic material) present on toys from a pediatrician's office, both before and after cleaning, and presented her findings at the American Society of Microbiology/Infectious Disease Society of America meeting this week.
Pappas said the study gives parents the message that doctor's office toys should probably be avoided.
"I can't tell them that [their children are going to be sick,] but certainly I can tell them the virus is there," she said.
Pappas noted that wiping down the toys didn't solve the problem.
"It does remove some of it, but it's a very modest effect that the cleaning has on it," she said.
For optimal cleaning, Pappas said, the toys should be washed with soap and water or disinfected using water with a small amount of household bleach, rinsed and then air-dried.
Grossman concurred. "A very low concentration of a bleach solution is an effective way to kill almost any bacteria and viruses," she said, adding that in the last hospital where she worked, toys would be removed from the waiting room twice a day, with new ones brought in while the old ones are cleaned.