Let’s face it: Parenting has always been scary. But it’s especially so when you’re trying to keep your little ones safe in the face of a pandemic. You’d do anything to protect them. But while the world’s attention may be focused on COVID-19, there are other, perhaps even more significant health threats, parents need to guard against.
It might come as a surprise, but COVID-19 and the seasonal flu share some similarities. Both are infections that can easily be spread through respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing, and even breathing and speaking near others.
As frightening as COVID-19 may be, it seems to be the seasonal flu that poses the greatest risk to children in particular, especially those under 5. While children are by no means immune to the coronavirus or its severest complications, they appear to be far less susceptible to the worst impacts of the disease than are adults.
For the flu, though, children don’t seem to enjoy such protections, which is why an annual flu shot is strongly recommended for almost all children. For children six months and older, the flu shot is generally safe and effective, not only protecting them from potentially life-threatening flu but also possibly adding a layer of protection against the coronavirus.
Common Viral Infections
Every parent knows that children are little Petri dishes on two feet. Several common childhood viruses can pose particular threats to your child. Luckily, modern medicine has given us quite a few effective means of preventing many of them: vaccinations and antibiotics.
Measles, chickenpox, and viral meningitis are especially worrying both because of their severity and because of their easy community spread. A single outbreak in a school or amusement parks, for instance, can rapidly infect dozens or even hundreds of children.
The good news is that there are safe and effective vaccines to prevent many of these illnesses, particularly measles and chickenpox. The bad news is that, in the face of the national lockdowns and widespread fears of the coronavirus, many parents are delaying or even skipping life-saving childhood immunizations entirely.
This is a dangerous situation because these viral infections can’t just be cured with a simple antibiotic. In fact, antibiotics are not effective for viruses at all. Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections. That common misconception has not only led to overprescription of antibiotics but also the emergence of dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections, such as MRSA.
For viral infections though, there are few therapies, other than a handful of antiviral medications, that can be used to treat the symptoms. This is what makes prevention so crucial, from ensuring that your children are up to date on all their vaccinations, including the annual flu shot to practicing impeccable hygiene. This means washing your hands often and keeping surfaces sanitized in order to prevent the proliferation of microbes. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends handwashing as one of the most important means of preventing the spread of COVID. This goes for most other infections.
Healthy Mind, Heart, and Body
Protecting your children’s health, though, is about more than trying to shield them from infection. It’s also about protecting their hearts and minds in this frightening time. So even as you and your little ones are wearing your masks, social distancing, washing your hands, and getting your vaccines and other essential care, don’t forget emotional care.
If the pandemic is scary for you, imagine how much more so it is for young ones. Remember that they’re taking their cues from you. Model calm and teach your children how to manage stress and anxiety, but let your children know it’s okay and normal to be scared, to have worries and questions.
And then show your children how to deal with those emotions. Give them a safe, calm space. Perhaps provide older children with a journal where they can freely express their fears and frustrations. Above all, don’t forget to give yourself the same gift, because to take care of them, you also have to take care of yourself.
In the last few months, COVID-19 has come to dominate our world. But when it comes to keeping our children healthy, there are other threats we must keep in mind. Fortunately, as parents, we’re far from powerless. The key is not to let the fear of the virus distract you from the many different kinds of care your child needs and deserves.
Jori Hamilton is an experienced writer residing in the Northwestern U.S. She covers a wide range of subjects but takes a particular interest in covering topics related to child development, health and wellness, mindfulness, and productivity. To learn more about Jori, you can follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn