Rx from Woodson Merrell, M.D., director of Beth Israels Continuum Center for Health and Healing
NEW YORK, N.Y.For families with young children, cold and flu season is an endless cycle of somebody getting sick, recovering and then catching the next round from another family member or friend.
There are effective ways to break the sickness cycle by taking protective measures and boosting immunity, says Woodson Merrell, M.D., M. Anthony Fisher director of Integrative Medicine at the Continuum Center for Health and Healing of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.
Dr. Merrell attacks the problem with an integrative medical tool kit. Im a pragmatist, he explains, which is why I incorporate the best of Western scientific medicine and the best of complementary therapies. Even if you get a flu shot, youre still at risk for colds and flu. However, everyone can add a few smart preventive measures to their routine and strengthen their natural immunity. Here are Dr. Merrells out-of-the-box tips and tricks to help families make it through cold and flu season (see more tips on page B5, Tips and tricks for cold and flu season Rx:
1. We all know the importance of hand washing in reducing the transmission of cold and flu germs. But did you know that most children do not wash their hands long enough to have a significant impact? Teach your children to recite a nursery rhyme while lathering their hands, rinsing at the completion of the poem. This technique can triple or quadruple the amount of time their hands are exposed to soap and frictionthe two methods that remove the most germs from the skin.
2. When serving snacks, beware the communal snack bowl. Children like to touch, and may pick up three cookies before making a final selection. Children also may not have washed their hands before plunging into the popcorn bowl. Much better to use separate bowls, or single serving sizes when concerned about cold and flu germs being passed around with the goodies.
3. Wait wisely. During peak outbreaks of viral illnesses, you might want to reconsider turning the little one loose in a childrens waiting area. These areas have tempting child-sized tables and chairs, brightly colored toys and books. Unfortunately, these areas are used by many children with varying degrees of hygiene in the course of a day.
4. If you or your child is ill, be a hero and stay home. Not only is this the most effective way to protect others from your illness, you are more likely to rest and drink more fluids in an unstructured home environment vs. the more rigid schedules of school and the workplace. Consider canceling play dates with children who are coming down with colds.
5. Treat yourself to a new toothbrush. After your recovery from a cold or the flu, celebrate with a new toothbrush. Your old brush is likely carrying some residual germs from your illness, so out with the old and in with the new.
6. Wash scarves and mittens frequently and in hot water. Little hands in mittens wipe noses, play with outdoor toys and wrestle with playmates. Scarves pick up germs carried in the mouth. Washing these items frequently and in hot water can make a difference during cold and flu outbreaks.
7. Think about a new drink. Tea contains antioxidants and polyphenols that can boost the immune system. Substituting iced tea (decaffeinated for young ones) for soft drinks is a healthy choice anytime, but especially during cold and flu season. As an added benefit, choose unsweetened or lightly sweetened, which contain far less sugar than soft drinks.
8. Nutritionists tell us, and the evidence has proven the great health benefits of getting more fruits and vegetables in our childrens diets, but we know how picky children can be. Experiment with smoothies made with fruits rich in vitamin C and other nutrients. Youthful taste buds may prefer fruits like bananas, papayas or strawberries.
9. Go herbal, but go cautiously-most have not been tested in children. One that has extensive safety and efficacy studies is Esberitox, and its been proven safe for children as young as 2 years old. In fact, in a clinical study in Europe, it was shown to reduce the duration of colds by 50 percent. A blend of two types of Echinacea and two other herbs, Esberitox has been recommended by pediatricians and family physicians in Germany and America for many years. And it is chewable, so no tears over trying to swallow a big pill. This herbal formula is the only one that my own children will take without a fuss, says Dr. Merrell, because it tastes goodthey even ask for it.
10. For older kids with sore throats, gargle with disinfectant solutions, such as Listerine or diluted hydrogen peroxide (the latter is not safe for young children, who may swallow it).
11. Integrative practitionersthat is, doctors who have additional experience with dietary supplements, such as traditional Chinese medicine, and/or homeopathyhave other options that may be right for you and your child, for both cold and flu prevention and treatment. You may want to schedule a wellness visit before cold and flu season hits to develop the health plan that is right for your family.
Even if the headlines predict widespread infections during cold and flu season, you and your kids may be able to avoid them. If you take proper care, you can dramatically reduce the number of days youre out of commission, or even dodge getting sick altogether. And if you do happen to get sick, you can use these tips to get better faster.
From the Nov. 30-Dec. 6, 2005, issue