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Here Come the Germs

Seems like this is the time of year when
the germs are back in force; Maddie has already had two colds this
year, one a summer cold picked up at a birthday party and one
simply from playing at our playground. This wouldn’t be such
a big deal, except that means that my baby Cora has also had two
colds. And she’s only 4 ½ months old. Contrast that
with Maddie, who had her first illness at almost fourteen months,
and you can get the gist of my frustration.

There’s a lot of misinformation out there on the Internet, as
well as some old wives’ tales that are simply incorrect. So
to save us all some precious sick days this season, here’s
some info on kids and germs – use it (to stay) in good

First off, the cold has three peak months
– September, January, and April for some crazy reason. Those
are the times you’ll see a big wave of good old rhinovirus.

As far as the flu goes, getting a flu shot cannot make you get the
flu. The flu shot may take a while to kick in, and you may have
already been infected before the shot so you’ll get hit
anyway. But a flu vaccine for a four-year-old in preschool can save
the whole family some potential sick days. Talk to your
pediatrician, but know that flu shots are a good thing. Babies
under six months and pregnant women in the first trimester
don’t usually get them, but everyone else should seriously
consider it.

Avoiding someone else’s germs can be very tricky, especially
in a big city taking, say, public transportation. Good old hand
sanitizer will save your bacon – never leave home without it!
The alcohol will kill pretty much anything. Please note that
anti-bacterial wipes are NOT the same thing, and will not kill most
illness germs, which are viral instead of bacterial. Hand sanitizer
is the only thing that’ll have a chance against the common

When you get a chance, of course, wash hands all the time. Teach
your child to wash hands after being outside, before eating, and
after going to the bathroom at the very least. Know that it takes
20 seconds of scrubbing for hands to be thoroughly cleaned, so make
up a “wash hands” song that lasts that long and make
sure your kids washes until the song is over. And by the way
– the dirtiest place on the hands? Under the fingernails. So
be sure they scrub, and don’t let your baby suck on your
fingers unless you’ve cleaned well.

Now for the big question – if you are sick, when are you
contagious? The answer is, right away and for a long time.
You’ll be contagious perhaps 24 hours before symptoms show
up, since most symptoms appear 48-72 hours after you’re
infected. There’s nothing you can do about that. But once
symptoms come around, you’re contagious. Clear runny, green
mucous, it all equals contagious and don’t let anyone tell
you differently. Doctors generally agree that the first 72 hours of
symptoms are when you are the most contagious, and my pediatrician
tells me that four days after the symptoms appear for a cold
Maddie’s pretty much in the clear as far as passing it on.
Obviously if it’s a stomach virus or something, you’re
contagious until the symptoms go away.

What does this mean for a mommy with a sick kid? I err on the side
of caution – if Maddie’s got symptoms, she stays home
so she doesn’t infect the others at the playground. I
honestly wish everyone else showed the same courtesy; my
family’s last cold came thanks to a Mommy who showed up sick
with her sneezing, hacking four-year-old in tow as well.
“Yep, we’re sick!” she said merrily.
“We’re spreading germs all over the kingdom!”
Yes, she did.

I know that you can’t always keep the child at home –
sometimes your job is on the line, and so forth. But please think
about how your kid got sick in the first place, and try to cancel
all nonessential outings. And if I do have to be out and about with
Maddie sick, I’ll warn all the other mommies:
“Maddie’s had a cold and is still getting over it. You
may not want to share a ball with her.” Then it’s their

Once you’re down for the count, it’s futile to try and
keep it from the rest of the family but I make a vain effort
anyway, washing my hands obsessively, trying not to breathe on
Cora, keeping their hands away from their mouths and eyes, and so
on. I like to pretend it’ll work someday and we won’t
all get sick EVERY TIME one of us gets sick. It’s just a
little dream I have.

Cold remedies such as antihistamines and decongestants are NOT
RECOMMENDED AT ALL for children under 2; talk to your pediatrician,
but follow all warning labels on the bottles. I’d rather see
my baby congested than dose her with Sudafed and end up in the
emergency room, like dozens of babies do every year. Humidifiers
will help with the stuffiness, but the time to try something new
like a humidifier is while the baby is well; adding a strange noise
probably won’t help much in the sleep department while
they’re sick. The best tip I’ve found for helping a
congested baby sleep is to elevate the head of the crib a bit for
them. You can simply put a pillow under the crib mattress at one
end to achieve this, though the baby might slide a bit. Or you can
buy this truly awesome href="http://clickserve.cc-dt.com/link/click?lid=41000000022838111">
crib wedge
for baby to use. Maddie loved it and we left
it in the crib all the time.

You can also try a steamy bathroom for a stuffy child, but remember
not to put your poor baby in scalding water. Take a long hot shower
yourself, then sit in the steamed-up room in a cooler bath with the

And my last tip for taking care of a sick baby – forget the
Kleenex. When Maddie gets a cold, we bring out all the old burp
cloths and use them as giant cloth tissues. We leave one every few
feet, scattered on furniture throughout the house. Way softer on
the nose, can take multiple uses, and tosses easily into the wash.

So good luck avoiding those germs – get out there and

And p.s. – this seems self-evident but must be said:
I’m not a doctor. If your pediatrician says something
contrary to what I just wrote, don’t say, “But Jennifer
said otherwise!” Listen to your doctor. That’s why you
pay her.


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