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01 Sep 2015
The holidays are over and it’s the start of a new school term – where has the year gone? We’re all trying to cling on to the last few rays of summer sunshine, but reluctantly we have to accept that the nights are drawing in and the cardigans are coming out! Though we should hopefully be charged up with some stores of sunny vitamin D, the change in the seasons can be a tough time for the immune system, particularly when we head towards winter and peak flu season.
‘Back to school’ can also mean ‘back to bugs’, as the school environment can be a hotbed of bacteria and viruses which are generously shared amongst school children, leading to absences, and often days off work for working parents who need to care for their poorly offspring and often succumb to the bugs themselves.
So what can we do to keep our kids – and ourselves - healthy and bug-free? Read on for some simple tips to help keep germs at bay!
Let’s think a little about what causes colds, coughs and tummy upsets. In general, infections are caused by tiny bacteria, fungi, and viruses which are easily passed from person to person (Check the Glossary for definitions: bacteria, fungi and viruses). Teaching our children some basic lifestyle tips can help to avoid them picking up and spreading these nasty germs.
Everything – and everyone – we touch may harbour tiny, invisible microbes, some of which can cause illness if the conditions are right. Teaching children good hygiene is a simple tip to help avoid the spread of diseases.
We try to teach our children to be generous and share their belongings, but it’s not always the best idea when it comes to sharing their germs. Keeping very personal belongings such as water bottles, cutlery, towels and handkerchiefs to themselves is a good idea – otherwise our children may be giving and receiving more than they bargained for!
Noses, eyes, spots, ears – when they’re bored kids will pick at anything! Unfortunately, these areas are also the warm, moist environments that bugs just love to hang out in, and so picking at these can be a recipe for microbe mayhem.
It’s so simple, but teaching your child to cover their mouth and nose when sneezing isn’t just polite, it makes good health sense. A good whooshing cough or sneeze can distribute droplets of microbe-laden moisture into the air, generously spreading germs with unsuspecting by-standers! Ideally, it’s best to cover up with a handkerchief rather than their hands.
Of course, despite our best efforts, our children are inevitably going to encounter bad bugs and so we need to ensure that they’re healthy enough to fight these off.
Our body is pretty amazing at combating the armies of bugs it encounters on a daily basis, but our immune system does need some support to ensure that it remains strong and effective. A good diet of course, with plenty of immune-powering protein, healthy fats and slow-release carbohydrates to give energy, antioxidant-packed fresh fruit and vegetables, and plenty of water and fibre to help carry toxins out of the body. And bacteria! Yes, our children need their own armies of good bacteria to beat up the bad guys. These friendly fighters crowd out the nasties and communicate with our immune systems to ensure they respond appropriately to any incoming pathogens.
Before we become too precious about fending off the hordes of bacteria in our environments, let’s not forget that introducing our immune systems to a wide diversity of microbes is thought by many scientists to be beneficial. Click on this link to read more about the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ in Jacob's recent blog. But we also need to remember that antibiotics and our modern diets may compromise our natural gut bacteria which in turn can negatively affect immune function. Supplementing with specially formulated probiotics for kids that contains the best type of bacteria for their developing guts is a great way of keeping their intestinal flora in good order.
We have more fascinating facts about the use of probiotics to enhance immunity – see Probiotics and children’s immunity, or healthcare professionals can click on these links to read more: Bifidobacterium reduces colds and Probiotics reduce common cold symptoms.
Here’s to a happy and healthy new school year!