With winter weather steadily approaching, many of us are moving our gatherings and events indoors. This means the onset of cold and flu season. While the months ahead do pose a risk in terms of annoying illness, there are several preventative tips that families can take in order to protect their loved ones from cold and flu.

To learn more, I spoke with internist and pediatrician Dr. Nicole Florence, a physician with over 22 years of experience practicing medicine and the co-medical director of the Memorial Wellness Center.

What preventative steps can families take in order to face the upcoming cold and flu season?

There are certain principles that we discuss with our patients that are rather simple, and since COVID-19 happened, a lot of these things are already a part of most people's daily routines.

• Have clean hands - Be consistent with your handwashing avoid touching your face.

• Cover your cough - This can be harder for kids, but we have to teach them to use the bend of the elbow to catch their cough, rather than their hands.

• Stay home - If you aren't feeling well and can do so, one of the best things you can do is stay home. You'll be less likely to expose others, and you'll get the rest you need.

• Stay in good health - Our immune system is not able to be at its best if we are tired, or if we are not eating healthy. This cold and flu season is a good time to just concentrate on being healthy overall. If you are healthy, you'll be less likely to get sick. If you do get sick, you'll be more likely to recover fully and quickly.

• Get a vaccine - Vaccines are so important to keep healthy during flu season. People who have had vaccines are less likely to end up in the hospital with complications such as pneumonia. When considering your vaccines, think about how much you'll be helping your community to reduce the spread of illnesses overall.

It seems like parents are hearing a lot about RSV lately. How does RSV affect children?

Infants and children up to age 3 and people with underlying health conditions have smaller airways. It is for this reason that these individuals tend to react to the RSV virus with more inflammation. Adults are also exposed to RSV, but adults have larger and more mature airways, so we don't have as hard a time with inflammation.

What about COVID-19?

Vaccine and boosters continue to be important, and the other principles listed above also apply. Additionally, concerned families should pay attention to our virus levels in the community and can choose to wear a mask indoors if/when our community has a high level of virus circulating.

What should parents keep on hand at home as a part of their care toolkits?

This varies by age, and families should talk to their providers about appropriate medications and dosages for their children. To keep it simple, families should have Tylenol or Motrin on hand, as is age-appropriate, to treat for fever. Again, speak to your provider about this.

Additionally, keep a hydration solution such as Pedialyte or even popsicles in the house. Staying hydrated is really important for overcoming illness, and kids don't always have the same initiative as adults when it comes to keeping hydrated.

Another thing to ask your provider about are saline nasal sprays. There are many over-the-counter sprays that may be appropriate for aiding your child's congestion or cough, and your pediatrician can help you to determine what is recommended for your family,

Do you have any other advice or

recommendations that you can share?

I would recommend sending your school-age children with their own little bottles of hand sanitizer or antibacterial hand wipes. These are nice for kids to have on hand while they are at school or riding the bus.

Pamela Savage is a freelance writer living in Springfield. She has a school-age child and a preschooler and hopes to avoid icky germs this winter.

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