Health Beat - Winter 2017 - 7
hildren can seem like miniature petri dishes,
cultivating every illness that comes along. It's not
your imagination-kids do get sick more often
Most young children get six to 10 mild infections a year,
usually colds or stomach bugs that resolve on their own,
says Dawn Nolt, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics'
Committee on Infectious Diseases.
Nolt explains why kids are more prone to illness than
adults, and whether parents should attempt to ward off
What Is It About Kids and Illness?
Because children don't have as much immune defense as
adults, they are more susceptible to infections. Nolt says
several other factors come into play:
DSmall children typically haven't mastered basic hygiene
such as washing their hands and covering their mouths
DThey often share toys with other kids.
DThey typically spend time with a variety of caregivers and
can't avoid people who are sick, unlike adults who may be
able to isolate themselves.
The ailments kids contract typically are the same as for
adults-colds and diarrheal illnesses. But young ones simply
get them more often.
Illness and the Immune System
Some speculate that frequent illness could have long-term
benefits, including helping to bolster developing immune
systems. But Nolt says the jury's still out on that idea.
"We just don't understand everything about the immune
system," she says, adding that doctors are still studying how
childhood health affects a person's overall health and wellbeing later in life.
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Salina Regional's affiliated clinics offer primary
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Nolt advises common sense. You don't want to prevent
illness by keeping the environment entirely sterile, but you
also don't want to let hygiene lapse in the name of building a
stronger immune system. Don't vacuum the house and wipe
everything with bleach twice a day, but do make thorough
hand-washing a habit.
Many people worry that the frequency of their children's
illnesses is outside the ordinary, Nolt says. Remember that
even kids who get a mild illness each month during the winter
are still within a normal range.
What Can Families Do?
The answer always begins with hand hygiene, Nolt says.
"With the availability of alcohol-based sanitizers and soap
and clean water in this country, those should always be the
top priority," she says.
For very small kids, maintaining hygiene is up to the
caregiver. It's not advisable to use products such as hand
sanitizer on babies, who frequently put their hands in their
mouths, because they can ingest harmful chemicals.
Older kids might need instruction on how to wash their
hands properly. Here's an easy-to-remember tip to make
sure they spend enough time washing: Hum the "Happy
Birthday" song from beginning to end twice. That takes
about 20 seconds, which is how long you should spend on
a thorough wash. 1
TEACH kids proper hand hygiene with games and videos at scrubclub.org
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