Parents, this will be the first winter without pandemic restrictions in two years, so you and your children may be more susceptible to the usual winter bugs and viruses this year. Winter bugs and viruses are usually mild, but can sometimes become more serious, particularly in younger children or if an infection spreads to a vulnerable family member.
UK Health Security Agency has shared their top 5 things you can do to help protect your little ones under age five and reduce the risk of infections for your family this season.
1 - Check your child is up to date with their vaccinations
Vaccination is the best defence against severe illness, so to protect your child, check their red book or contact your GP to make sure that your child is up to date with all of their vaccines.
Getting vaccinated will not only protect your child but also protect others by stopping outbreaks in nurseries and schools and reducing the risk of spread to your family and friends. It may also help you avoid having to take time off work or arrange alternative childcare as a result of your child getting ill.
You can see some of the vaccines on offer below, and the full list of vaccines your child should have on the NHS website vaccination schedule, including the flu vaccine.
With flu cases on the rise, this is a particularly important time to ensure your child gets the flu vaccine. These are available for any children aged 2 or 3 on 31 August 2022, all primary school children, and some secondary school children.
They will most likely be offered a painless and quick nasal spray vaccine to help protect them against flu, or if they are between 6 months and 2 years and have a health condition that puts them at higher risk from flu, they'll be offered a flu vaccine injection instead of the nasal spray.
For more information on who is eligible for the flu vaccination this year, go to the NHS website.
2 - Take up any additional vaccinations your child is eligible for
While the risk of the Polio virus to the public overall is extremely low, to protect children in areas where Poliovirus has been detected, an additional dose of the polio vaccine is being offered. Therefore, if your child is between 1 and 9, and lives in London, book your polio vaccine. This will provide a high level of protection from paralysis for your child and help to reduce the further spread of the virus.
3 - Teach your child how to wash their hands and cover their coughs and sneezes
The good hygiene habits that were used to slow the spread of COVID-19 are important defences against a range of other infections, including respiratory infections and stomach bugs, like norovirus.
By teaching your child how to wash their hands properly with soap for 20 seconds, using a tissue to catch coughs and sneezes, and keeping away from others when feeling unwell, they will be able to reduce the risk of picking up, or spreading, infections.
Check out UK Health Security Agency’s e-bug resources for early years to help you explain to your child what good hygiene habits are, how they can practice them and why they are important.
4 - Learn about the symptoms of common infections and what you can do if they get worse
There are several common infections that your child might pick up over the winter period. In most cases, these infections will be a mild illness and can be treated at home. However, in some cases they might get worse and require medical help. Some common infections include:
Flu can be an unpleasant illness in children causing a fever, stuffy nose, dry cough, sore throat, aching muscles and joints, and extreme tiredness. This can last several days or longer.
Some children can get a very high fever, sometimes without the usual flu symptoms, and may need to go to hospital for treatment. Whilst in most cases, flu will be a mild illness in children, let’s not forget that every winter, some children require intensive care for flu infection.
The best way for your child to avoid flu is by ensuring your child is vaccinated against flu.
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)
RSV is a common winter virus which affects children under the age of two. RSV often causes mild coughs and colds but is also the most common cause of bronchiolitis infants. Bronchiolitis can make breathing harder and cause difficulty feeding.
RSV can be more severe in premature babies, babies under 2 months and infants with underlying health conditions that increase their risk of acute lower respiratory tract infection. Breathing in cigarette smoke also increases the risk of a child getting bronchiolitis, so it is important not to smoke around your child.
5 - Support your child’s school or nursery by keeping them off when needed
Depending on the type of infection, it may spread through respiratory droplets, direct contact between people, or via contact with a contaminated surface. This means that if your child is infectious, there is a risk they could pass it to others in their school or nursery, or amongst other members of your family.
If your child has mild respiratory symptoms, like a runny nose, sore throat, or slight cough but are otherwise well, they can continue to attend their school or nursery.
If your child has a tummy bug with vomiting and/or diarrhoea, keep them off for 48 hours after symptoms have stopped. You can learn more about norovirus, which is one very infectious tummy bug, and how to stop the spread in this blog.
More information about when to keep your child away from school or nursery is available here.