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The start of winter brings thoughts of holidays, friends, travel, and the dreaded cold and flu season. Both maladies do little to make winter any more enjoyable for adults but the effects are often more severe where children are concerned. Whether it’s daycare or school, your child is exposed to the coughs and sneezes of others and a bout with a cold or the flu is almost a certainty.

There are ways to limit your child’s exposure to potential sources of colds and flu. Make sure they wash their hands often, especially after touching toys, someone else’s hand, doorknobs, handrails, etc. Avoid people with colds or flu, when at all possible. Teach them that if they sneeze or cough, to do so into a tissue and then to throw the tissue away. Try to keep them from touching their nose, eyes, or mouth – especially without first washing their hands. These are easy paths for germs to enter the body. Annual vaccinations for flu are also a way of preventing the disease – consult your doctor.

If preventative measures don’t work, how do you distinguish between a cold and the flu? The following are some of the tell-tale signs of both illnesses.

Cold: Stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat, mild to moderate chest discomfort, hacking cough, mild fatigue. Fever, headache, and extreme exhaustion are extremely rare in cases of the cold.

Flu: High fever (102-104º F) lasting 3-4 days; headache; general aches and pains, sometimes severe; fatigue lasting up to 2-3 weeks; extreme exhaustion, early and prominent; chest discomfort and coughing is common and can become severe. Some also experience stuffy nose, sneezing, and sore throat with the flu.

With either a cold or the flu monitor the symptoms and call your doctor if:


the symptoms get worse


the symptoms last a long time


after feeling a little better, your child develops signs of a more serious problem (nausea, vomiting, high fever, chills, chest pain, or a productive cough with thick, yellow-green mucus.)

Easing your child’s comfort with children’s medication may help. Nasal decongestants will unclog stuffy noses; cough suppressants with expectorants will quiet coughs and loosen mucus so it can be coughed up; antihistamines stop runny noses and sneezing; and analgesics (pain relievers) help ease fevers, headaches and minor aches and pains. However, DO NOT give aspirin or other salicylates to children or teenagers with symptoms of a cold or the flu. Children and young people can become sick or die from a rare condition called Reye’s Syndrome if they take such medicines while they have these symptoms – consult your doctor or pharmacist. For pain relief in those instances use acetaminophen.

Being sick is no fun but if you’re prepared and know what to watch for, you can reduce the discomfort your child encounters and have them back on their feet in no time!

Did You Know?

Childhood vaccinations included in the 4:3:1:3 combined series are 4 doses of diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and pertussis vaccine (DTP)/diphtheria and tetanus toxoids (DT) vaccine, 3 doses of polio vaccine, 1 dose of a measles-containing vaccine (MCV), and 3 doses of Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib) vaccine. The recommended immunization schedule for children is available at

SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Immunization Program and National Center for Health Statistics, National Immunization Survey.

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