Winter is always a tough time for both children and adults to stay healthy. The changing seasons and temperature fluctuations allow many viruses to flourish. In addition, winter is also when most people stay indoors and spend more time in close contact with friends and family. All these factors are great news for viruses (who love having potential hosts in enclosed spaces) but not so great for everyone else.
While it is impossible to avoid winter illnesses entirely – particularly if you have a child in school, daycare, or community programs – there are many precautions you can take to stay well in the winter.
Below, we offer ten tips for reducing the transmission of nasty viruses and keeping your immune system strong.
Tip 1: Be Aware of Winter Illnesses
Knowing which illnesses to keep an eye out for during the winter months is an important part of staying well. Being aware of when different types of viruses circulate can help you know which symptoms to watch for in your household. This awareness of common winter illnesses can also make it easier for you to prepare to treat some mild symptoms at home.
The most common seasonal illnesses in the winter months are:
To learn more about each illness and the symptoms and treatments, take a look at our other blog post, where we dive deeper into common illnesses that peak in autumn.
Tip 2: Stay on Top of Handwashing and Sanitizing
One of the most effective ways to reduce your chances of getting sick is to wash your hands properly with soap and warm water. The best practice is to wash your hands regularly and thoroughly throughout the day, even if you haven't left the house or your desk.
Bacteria can linger on your phone, keyboard, and so much more. So, while you may think handwashing is less important at home than when you are out and about, that is not the case.
Handwashing is extra essential if you are at work or out running errands. Communal areas and public spaces are playgrounds for viruses and bacteria waiting to come home to you and your loved ones.
If you are unable to wash your hands with soap and water, alcohol-based hand sanitizer can help kill some germs. However, be sure to give your hands a thorough scrub with warm, soapy water as soon as possible.
Tip 3: Don’t Touch Your Face
This tip is one we are all quite familiar with from the past couple of years due to COVID-19 prevention awareness. However, it is just as applicable to winter illnesses.
Touching your face is an unconscious habit that most people have. From scratching your nose to rubbing your eyes to biting your nails, touching your face significantly increases your chances of catching nasty bugs.
Try to pay attention to when you touch your face the most and make a conscious effort to break that bad habit.
Tip 4: Always Bring Along Tissues
Everyone knows that colder weather brings about runny noses, coughing, and sneezing, so it is never a bad idea to bring tissues with you wherever you go. Keeping a stock of tissues and wipes handy helps ensure you or your child are not touching your nose and then touching other surfaces or items while you are out and about in your community.
Using a tissue to wipe a runny nose or cover a cough or sneeze helps keep others around you healthy while reducing the chances of transferring new germs from your hand to your mouth and nose.
Toss some travel pack tissues into your purse or bag, so you always have them available. Be sure to keep a box in your car as well that is easily accessible to whoever may need a tissue.
Tip 5: Sanitize Toys and High Touch Surfaces
Did you know that bacteria and viruses can survive on objects and surfaces for days? From your child's favourite toy to the shopping cart at the grocery store, there are many places where germs can linger.
Door handles, keypads, gas station pumps, steering wheels, cell phones, and keyboards are some of the worst offenders, so be sure to clean them with an antibacterial wipe when possible.
Get into the habit of regularly cleaning your children’s toys as well. Soap and water are excellent for hard plastic toys, while some fabric toys may do just fine in a regular laundry cycle. Opt for a disinfecting spray for tough-to-clean items that cannot get wet.
Tip 6: Get Vaccinated
Each year, influenza (flu) vaccines are easily accessible, but taking time to book your flu shot is particularly important this year. Children are at increased risk this year due to the relatively low flu circulation during the COVID-19 pandemic. With everyone physically distancing, wearing masks, and being extra vigilant with preventative measures in the past few years, children were less exposed, making them particularly vulnerable now.
Flu vaccines can be life-saving – especially for children, seniors, and people with compromised immune systems – because immunization helps the body build antibodies to fight off viruses. Of course, getting the flu shot doesn't guarantee that you will not be stuck in bed for a few days, but it can reduce the length and severity of flu symptoms.
Talk to your family doctor or local pharmacist if you or your children have not yet received your flu shot. You will be happy you did if the flu finds its way into your household!
Tip 7: Eat Healthy and Exercise
Unprocessed food is rich in vitamins and minerals that keep your body strong and give it a better chance of fighting off illnesses. For this reason, do your best to incorporate a variety of fruits, vegetables, healthy proteins, and whole grains into your family's diet. Planning healthy meals is important all year long, but particularly in the fall and winter when seasonal illnesses are rampant.
Exercise is also a key part of staying healthy and keeping your immune system strong. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day. Choose a few different exercises that you enjoy that focus on strength, endurance, flexibility, and balance.
As a bonus, eating well and exercising daily helps you maintain your weight and reduces your chances of developing lifestyle-related diseases!
Tip 8: Get Enough Sleep Each Night
Sleep is another part of keeping your immune system strong and giving your body the best chance to fight off illness. Getting adequate sleep also often reduces recovery time if you do fall ill. For these reasons, aim for seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Avoid sleeping more than ten hours; getting too much sleep can reduce sleep quality overall and ultimately suppress your immune system.
While adults should aim for seven to eight hours, teenagers' optimal number of hours per night is nine to ten hours. School-aged children can benefit from ten or more.
Tip 9: Stay Home/Keep Your Kids Home If You Are Sick
One of the best things you can do to keep yourself, your loved ones, and people in your community safer from seasonal bugs is to stay home if you are feeling unwell. While you may feel like you should drag yourself to work or school when you have a sore throat, cough, or runny nose, it is actually best to physically distance yourself and rest.
Seasonal illnesses like the common cold and influenza can spread more quickly than you realize. That is why when one child at daycare gets sick, almost all the other children are sick soon after. The same applies for many workplaces. Therefore, stay home if you are unwell to reduce community spread and give your body a chance to recover more quickly.
If you absolutely cannot stay home, wear a mask when you are out in public spaces to reduce the circulation of airborne droplets from your breath, coughs, and sneezes.
In conclusion, several common winter illnesses can leave you and members of your household feeling unwell in the colder months. These illnesses include Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), cold, strep throat, croup, pneumonia, norovirus, and ear infection.
Luckily though, there are many ways you can reduce the chances of catching a bug. For example, always keep your hands clean, sanitize high-touch surfaces, and try to break the bad habit of touching your face. In addition, always keep tissues and hand sanitizer handy in your purse, bag, and car.
Do your best to eat healthy, exercise, and sleep enough each night to keep your immune system healthy. Also, be sure to stay home if you are feeling unwell and get your flu shot each year.
Book Your Flu Shot with Cook’s Pharmacy!
Are you and your loved ones up to date on your annual flu vaccine? If not, reach out to Cook’s Pharmacy to learn more about how to book your flu shot appointment in Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, Wellesley, or New Hamburg.