Keeping children healthy this winter – Marc Davidowitz
Children can be very susceptible to getting sick, regardless of the season. The combination of their immature immune systems at times, increasing trend of inappropriate diets and the interaction with many viruses/bacteria at creches/schools all play a part.
The increasing trend of sedentary lifestyles in children with less playing outside and more indoors on electronic devices leads to decreased physical activity as well as decreased interaction with the necessary bacteria to develop an immunity. This combination also leads to a greater incidence of infections in children.
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There are however many ways for us to keep kids healthier and reduce the number of infections. You can, of course, address the issues mentioned above. In addition to this, the implementation of a proper diet with all food groups especially fruit and vegetables to ensure the necessary vitamins are ingested.
Playing outside not only improves their health but also exposes children to Vitamin D from sunlight which is important. Ensuring children get enough sleep is another element that is often overlooked. And most importantly, for the prevention of serious infections, is the need to stay up to date with vaccine schedule.
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Vaccines are arguably one of the greatest inventions in modern medicine. A lot of debate has arisen in the past due to common misconceptions about them. The subsequent decrease in the use of certain vaccines (e.g. the Measles vaccine) led to massive outbreaks in the incidence and morbidity and mortality from Measles in the country a few years ago.
The purpose of vaccinating your children is not only to protect them from often serious infections but also to provide “herd immunity.” Herd immunity is when the community is immunized against a contagious disease as a result of everyone being immunized. This leads to most members of the community are protected which in turn leads to little opportunity for an outbreak.
As a result, those who are not eligible for certain vaccines—such as infants, pregnant women, or immunocompromised individuals, are protected due to the containment of the disease. This applies to a variety of contagious diseases, including influenza, measles, mumps, rotavirus, and pneumococcal disease.
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The flu vaccine for an example. It is annually updated and protects against recent viruses. It is recommended for children with chronic lung, heart, renal disease, Diabetes, HIV. Ideally, should be given in March before the season due to antibodies taking 2 weeks to build-up in systems. In most 1st world countries everyone is vaccinated. Some of the benefits of the flu vaccine are that it can protect against flu, decrease the severity the illness if you get it, prevent serious complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections.
The reported side-effects of the flu vaccine are minor and self-limited. They include fever, irritability, and pain at the site of the injection which responds well to OTC medication. A common misconception is that the flu vaccine can give you flu, which it cannot. Severe allergic reactions are also rare.
Many parents also avoid vaccines at times of minor illnesses, which is also unnecessary. The only real contraindications to vaccines, in general, are proven egg allergy, in which case the child can still be given vaccines including MMR. Only in children with a history of anaphylaxis to egg/flu vaccine, should they be avoided. And then in children with immunosuppression. They should not receive live vaccines (BCG, measles, MMR, OPV). In these cases, they should be delayed until 3 months if they are receiving therapy. Check your vaccine schedule in your child’s Road To Health Card to make sure they are up to date with all their vaccines.
Other ways to boost your child’s immune system is ensuring they receive certain vitamins and minerals such as Zinc, Vitamin C, Probiotics when they have bouts of diarrhea, as well as certain other immune boosters e.g. Echinacea.
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There is strong evidence that the use of Zinc and Vitamin C reduces the incidence of common colds by up to 50%, increases, iron absorption, aids in wound healing, reduces diarrhea and is vital in children with malnutrition.
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