5 ways to protect your under 5s this winter

Small child standing at the sink washing soap from his hands.

Since this is the first winter in two years without pandemic restrictions, you and your kids may be more susceptible to winter bugs and viruses this year. Winter bugs and viruses are usually mild, but can sometimes be more serious, especially in young children or if an infection spreads to a vulnerable family member.

Here are the top 5 things you can do to help protect your under-fives and reduce the risk of infection for your family this season.

1 – Check if your child is up to date on vaccinations

Vaccination is the best defense against serious illness, so to protect your child, check their Red Book or contact your GP to make sure your child is up to date on all vaccinations.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, routine vaccination rates among children have declined. It’s never too late for children to get their childhood vaccines, even if they’ve missed them in the past or you’re unsure of your child’s vaccination history.

Vaccination will not only protect your child but also others by stopping outbreaks in nurseries and schools and reducing the risk of spreading to your family and friends. It can also help you avoid having to take time off work or arrange alternative childcare as a result of your child being ill.

You can see some of the vaccines on offer below, and see the full list of vaccines your child has on the NHS website Immunization schedule, including flu vaccines.

Because of flu, this is an especially important time to make sure your child gets the flu vaccine. They are available to any child aged 2 or 3 on 31 August 2022, all primary school children and some secondary school children.

They’ll likely be given a painless and quick nasal spray vaccine to protect against the flu, or if they’re between 6 months and 2 years old and have health conditions that put them at high risk for the flu, they’ll be offered one. Flu vaccine injection instead of nasal spray.

By vaccinating your children, it will help protect not only your child, but also your family and friends, who may be at higher risk of serious illness from the flu, such as grandparents. It can also help you avoid having to take time off work or arrange alternative childcare as a result of your child getting the flu.

For more information about who is eligible for flu vaccination this year, visit the NHS website

2 – Get any additional vaccinations your child is eligible for

You may have seen in the news recently that poliovirus has been detected in sewers in North and East London. Polio is an illness caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system – causing permanent paralysis in unvaccinated children and adults.

Although the overall risk to the public is extremely low, extra doses of polio vaccine are being given to protect children in areas where poliovirus has been detected. So, if your child is aged between 1 and 9 and lives in London, book your polio vaccination. This will give your child a high level of protection against paralysis and help reduce further spread of the virus.

3 – Teach your child how to wash their hands and cover their coughs and sneezes

Good hygiene practices that were used to slow the spread of COVID-19 are important defenses against respiratory infections like norovirus and other infections, including stomach bugs.

By teaching your child how to properly wash their hands with soap for 20 seconds, use a tissue to cover coughs and sneezes, and stay away from others when feeling sick, they will be able to reduce the risk of developing or spreading an infection. . Our eBug resources for the early years can help you teach your child what good hygiene habits are, how they can practice them and why they’re important.

4 – Learn about common infection symptoms and what you can do if they get worse

Your baby can get several common infections during winter. In most cases, these infections will be a mild illness and can be treated at home. However, in some cases they may worsen and require medical assistance. Some common infections include:

the flu

The flu can be an unpleasant illness in children that causes fever, nasal congestion, dry cough, sore throat, muscle and joint pain, and extreme fatigue. This may last for several days or longer.

Some children may have a very high fever, sometimes without typical flu symptoms, and may need to go to the hospital for treatment. Serious complications of the flu include painful ear infections, acute bronchitis, and pneumonia. While in most cases, the flu will be a mild illness in children, let’s not forget that every winter, some children require intensive care for flu infections.

The best way to protect your child from the flu is to make sure your child is vaccinated against the flu. Find out more about flu symptoms and who to contact, as well as more about vaccination on the NHS website.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)

RSV is a common winter virus that affects children under two years of age. RSV often causes mild coughs and colds, but is the most common cause of bronchiolitis in children. Bronchiolitis can make breathing difficult and feeding difficult. RSV can be more severe in premature infants, infants younger than 2 months of age, and infants with underlying health conditions that increase their risk of severe lower respiratory tract infections. Breathing in cigarette smoke increases a child’s risk of developing bronchiolitis, so it’s important not to smoke around your child.

Find out more about the symptoms of bronchiolitis and who to contact on the NHS website.

Image of lungs on blue background.  The text reads: RSV is a common seasonal winter virus.  It causes coughs and runny noses and is the most common cause of bronchiolitis in children under 2 years of age.  Most cases are not serious and clear up within 2-3 weeks.  It can be more severe in premature babies, those less than 2 months old and those in poor health.

Blood fever

Scarlet fever is usually a mild illness, but it is highly contagious and levels this year are higher than usual. Therefore, keep an eye out for your child’s symptoms, which include a sore throat, headache and fever, along with a characteristic scaly, pink or red body rash and a scaly feeling.

Contact your GP or NHS 111 if you suspect your child has scarlet fever, as early treatment of scarlet fever with antibiotics is important to reduce the risk of complications such as pneumonia. If your child has scarlet fever, keep them home for at least 24 hours after starting antibiotic treatment to avoid spreading it to others.

Getting help and advice

As a parent, you may know that your child appears to be seriously ill and should trust your own judgment. You should contact your GP or call 111 if:

  • Your child has a cold and is feeling unwell
  • Your baby is feeding or eating much less than usual
  • Your child has had a dry nappy for 12 hours or more or shows other signs of dehydration
  • Your baby is less than 3 months old and has a temperature of 38C, or older than 3 months and has a temperature of 39C or more
  • Your baby feels hotter than usual when you touch their back or chest or sweat
  • Your child is very tired or irritable

Call 999 or go to A&E if:

  • Your baby is having trouble breathing – you may hear gasps or see the tummy suck under their ribs.
  • Your child has pauses in breathing
  • Your child’s skin, tongue or lips are blue
  • Your child is floppy and won’t wake up or stay awake

5 – Help your child by dropping off school or nursery when needed

Depending on the type of infection, it can spread through respiratory droplets, direct contact between people, or contact with contaminated surfaces. This means that if your child is contagious, they are at risk of spreading it at school or nursery or to other members of your family.

If your child has mild respiratory symptoms, such as a runny nose, sore throat or slight cough but is otherwise well, they can continue to attend school or nursery.

If your child has a stomach bug with vomiting and/or diarrhea, keep them off for 48 hours after the symptoms stop. You can learn more about norovirus, a highly contagious stomach bug, and how to stop it from spreading on our blog.

More information about when to keep your child away from school or nursery is available here: Is my child too sick for school? – NHS (www.nhs.uk)

Taking these simple steps to protect your child comes with many benefits. Winter can be tough for many, so it’s important to do what you can to keep your child fit and healthy through it.

The more children benefit from these measures, the greater the protection for those around them – which means more people benefit and the more positive impact we can make to help reduce the number of people falling ill this winter and help the NHS.

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