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Prevent the Flu Virus: The Importance of Hand Washing for Parents and Children

So far, the 2019-2020 flu season has been especially harmful to young children. As of January 30, 2020, there have been 54 reported pediatric deaths due to the flu virus in the United States. Nationwide, the CDC estimates that there have been 6.4 million cases of the flu, 55,000 hospitalizations, and 2,900 deaths. Staying healthy is a top priority for parents and children, and one of the best ways to avoid catching the flu is through regular hand washing.

The Cleveland Clinic says, “Viruses that cause colds and the flu most often are transmitted on the hands. People commonly catch colds when they rub their nose or their eyes after their hands have been contaminated with the cold virus. By washing your hands frequently, you wash away germs that you may have picked up from other people or contaminated surfaces.”

Prevent the Flu: Hand Washing Checklist

Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh says, “Rub your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. That is the amount of time it takes to recite the alphabet or to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice. Be sure that you reach every surface of your hands and fingernails.”

Prevent the spread of the flu virus by following these handwashing tips:

  • Use warm water (avoid hot or cold temperatures) to wash your hands.

  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds.

  • Wash your wrists, both sides of your hands, between fingers, around your nails, and anywhere germs might be present on your arms.

  • Clean the dirt underneath your fingernails.

  • Rinse thoroughly and pat dry with a clean towel.

  • If there is no soap or water available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

When Should Children and Parents Wash Their Hands?

Young children like to put their hands in their eyes, nose, and mouth, which is the fastest way to spread germs and catch the flu. To prevent colds and the flu this season, parents should emphasize the importance of handwashing and good hygiene, and lead by example.

Make handwashing a fun activity instead of a chore. Parents and children should wash their hands:

  • After using the bathroom

  • Before preparing or eating food

  • After taking out the trash

  • After changing a child’s diaper

  • After sneezing, coughing, or nose blowing

  • After coming in contact with a sick person

  • After petting an animal or cleaning up animal waste

  • After touching crowded surfaces, especially those in public places

  • Before and after treating a wound

  • After shaking someone’s hand or hugging someone

  • After touching a computer’s keyboard

  • When your hands are dirty

Other Ways to Prevent the Spread of the Flu Virus

The CDC says, “Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.”

Ways to Prevent the Flu in Young Children:

  • Teach children to cough or sneeze into a tissue and then throw the tissue away immediately.

  • Make sure children cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing.

  • Teach children to sneeze into the crook of their arm (inside the elbow), and avoid sneezing into their hands.

  • Get the flu vaccine.

  • Teach children to keep their hands out of their eyes, nose, and mouth.

  • Keep children away from sick individuals.

  • Avoid large crowds and cramped venues during the flu season.

  • Teach children not to share food or drinks with friends.

Combating the Flu in Childcare Programs

Germs are especially prevalent in child care centers because young children share toys and play close together. Healthy Children says, “Flu infections are highly contagious. They spread easily when children are in a group with other children, such as in a child care center or family child care home. Flu is more dangerous than the common cold for children and can lead to serious health conditions like pneumonia or bacterial infections.”

Prevent Spreading the Flu Virus in Childcare Programs:

  • Check to see if the staff has been immunized before the start of the flu season.

  • Study the parent handbook for your child care program’s flu-season protocols and prevention techniques.

  • Update your contact information in case providers need to reach you immediately.

  • Make sure providers have strict policies about sending sick children home and keep them home until they are no longer contagious.

  • Make sure providers practice regular hand washing with young children.

  • Find out if your childcare program plans to close in the event of a flu outbreak.

  • Make sure your childcare program has plenty of tissues, soap, paper towels, safe disinfectants, and hand wipes.

  • Make sure there are separate sinks for handwashing and food preparation.

  • Make sure the kitchen areas, bathrooms, changing tables, playrooms, drinking fountains, doorknobs, computers, and toys are thoroughly sanitized and cleaned every day.

By following these tips and practicing regular handwashing and good hygiene, children and parents can stay healthy this winter and avoid catching the flu.

The Institute for Childhood Preparedness has decades of experience in emergency preparedness, response, and recovery. Book emergency preparedness training in English or Spanish with us today:




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