We wait all year long for the holiday season. We gather together and put up our decorations. Some of us make travel arrangements to see friends and family. Of course, we all pin our favorite recipes. But during this time of year more than ever, parents work overtime to keep kids healthy and virus free for the holidays. And it seems that being able to come together as a family and see each other in person is more priceless than it has ever been in the past.
Keeping our kids healthy is so important but also tricky. With the flu season looming and travel plans nearly upon us, exposure to germs becomes harder and harder to avoid.
Today, let’s look at the most common illnesses and skin infestations we face during this season and learn how to stay as healthy as possible to enjoy the holidays with the ones we love.
Avoid Common Struggles to Stay Healthy for the Holidays
For many of us, the holiday season is a time where we visit loved ones, stay with relatives, and gather in large groups. This time is a tough one for trying to stay healthy. There are plenty of infections that are very contagious and like to travel quickly amongst people.
Let’s breakdown four common health issues and learn how to best prevent them to keep everyone happy and healthy for the holidays!
1. Viral Illnesses (Like RSV and the Flu)
As you’ve probably heard, we are seeing a record number of cases of RSV and the flu right now. Hospitals around the country are already at capacity, and we anticipate this trend to continue into the winter season.
Both of these viruses are spread through respiratory droplets and are most commonly transmitted through contact with infected surfaces. The viral particle can live on a surface for an extended period of time. These viruses can share similar symptoms, such as fever, cough, body aches, runny nose, and sore throat. RSV in particular can lead to respiratory distress particularly in infants and newborns.
PRO TRAVELING TIP: Although mask mandates are no longer in effect, I highly recommend you consider putting a mask on your child if you’re traveling by plane as it will significantly decrease the transmission of surface-to-mouth germs. On average, children touch their faces 45 times during a day!
Recently, I have been asked a lot if children should get the flu shot. Although this is a very personal decision that you should make with your family, flu vaccination is the first line of defense to prevent flu. In addition, the vaccine has been shown in several studies to reduce severity of illness in people who get vaccinated but still get sick. If you are traveling this holiday season, I recommend giving your child the flu shot 2 weeks before you leave. Antiviral drugs are a second line of defense to treat flu illness.
An individual with the flu can infect other people starting 1 day before the symptoms begin until 5-to-7 days into their illness. It is possible that children may infect people for an even longer period of time.
2. Stomach Bugs and Food Poisoning
With so many people traveling during the holidays, we see a lot of gastroenteritis (a.k.a. the stomach “bug”) in the ER. Gastroenteritis generally presents with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and sometimes fever. Viral gastroenteritis is highly infectious, so it can spread very easily and rapidly through family activities over the holidays. While most types of food poisoning are not contagious, they can be dangerous in children. If your child gets food poisoning or gastroenteritis, the most important thing is HYDRATION. Promote small amounts of fluids every 10-15 minutes and take your child to a doctor as soon as possible.
Signs of dehydration in children include the following:
- Dry mouth
- No tears when crying
- Decreased urination – lack of urine or wet diapers for 6-to-8 hours in an infant and 12 hours or more for an older child
- Increased sleepiness and irritability
- Fatigue or dizziness in an older child
3. Head Lice
Head lice are tiny insects, about the size of a sesame seed (2–3 mm long). Their bodies are usually pale and gray. Head lice feed on tiny amounts of blood from the scalp and if they are not on a person’s scalp, they can usually only survive about a day. They lay their eggs close to the scalp. Head lice live about 28 days. They can multiply quickly, laying up to 10 eggs a day. It only takes about 12 days for newly hatched eggs to reach adulthood. This cycle can repeat itself every 3 weeks if head lice are left untreated. Lice is typically passed through close person-to-person contact, making things like shared costumes, coats and hats, or sleepovers easy ways for kids to contract lice from a friend.
How Contagious is Head Lice?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are about 6-12 million cases of head lice each year in this country. Lice is considered most common among pre-school to elementary aged kids. Lice do not have wings or powerful legs. They move from host to host by crawling. Therefore, the most common way to spread head lice is direct head-to-head contact. Although you should avoid sharing hats, brushes, and towels, the most common way children spread head lice is from social gatherings or just being together in school.
PRO TRAVELING TIP
Make sure before traveling you pack your preventive spray and defense shampoo. The best way to cure lice is to prevent it! With the right tricks and tools, you can just about guarantee you won’t be getting or giving lice as a holiday gift this year:
- Pull hair back. Some evidence suggests girls are slightly more likely to get lice than boys. Keeping their hair tied up in braids or buns may lower chances of an infestation. It has also been suggested that hair spray helps to prevent the lice from attaching to the hair, but more research is needed.
- Use lice preventing shampoo and spray. Swap out your regular shampoo for Vamousse Lice Defense – a daily lice-killing shampoo. Typically, itching from an infestation does not occur until 4-6 weeks after lice are first contracted. Don’t wait for the itch! Vamousse’s Lice Defense Daily Shampoo kills recently contracted super lice before detection when used daily for 10-14 days following exposure or treatment.
- Before your vacation and on a daily basis, spray your child’s hair with Vamousse’s Lice Repellant Leave-in Spray. It contains essential oils – not synthetic pesticides – which create a barrier on the hair that lice avoid, further reducing the risk of an infestation!
- If an infestation occurs while traveling – have no fear! Vamousse is a great choice for parents because the convenient mousse formula goes to work within 15 minutes to kill all contacted adult lice AND their eggs once hair is fully saturated – tackling the entire infestation cycle – while they’re still in the hair. Whereas many other lice treatments require more than one application, Vamousse takes care of the entire infestation at one time!
Impetigo (im-puh-TIE-go) is a common and highly contagious skin infection that is mainly seen in infants and children. It usually presents as red sores around a child’s mouth or nose. Over about a week, the sores rupture and form a yellowish crust.
We all have bacteria present on our skin. Typically, bacteria do not cause any harm. However, when there is a break in the skin, bacteria can get underneath the skin and cause irritation and infection.
With scratching, the sores can easily spread to other areas of the body. This is why you see outbreaks in school settings and large gatherings.
Prevention is always key. Wash any scrapes, scratches, insect bites, or other cuts and wounds immediately.
If your child does get impetigo, it is usually not dangerous. And sores generally heal nicely without scarring. Sometimes, an over-the-counter (OTC) antibiotic ointment or cream can be used to clear up the infection. But consult your pediatrician first, as antibiotics are generally recommended to help prevent impetigo from spreading to others. More advanced instances may need oral antibiotics.
Final Thoughts on Staying Healthy for the Holidays
When making your holiday travel arrangements, consider that many illnesses, including respiratory viruses like the flu and RSV, are more contagious and have a higher risk of transmission amongst groups of people in small spaces. Stomach bugs are another concern that can spread rapidly through a group during family get togethers over the holidays. No one wants to end up in the ER over the holidays, but it’s helpful to know the signs your child needs to go to the ER:
- Increased respiratory rate – your child looks like they are breathing faster than normal.
- Accessory muscle use – when your child is recruiting other muscles to help them breathe. Their nose might be flaring, they may have tugging above their clavicle, or using the muscles between their ribs.
- New onset vomiting with fever and cough.
- Noisy breathing – any sounds of wheezing or whistling, stridor, or grunting.
- Listlessness and poor fluid intake.
- Parent intuition!!! When in doubt, always have your child evaluated.
While viruses can lead to scary symptoms in children, some of the most highly transmissible ailments often involve the hair and the skin, like two of the most common contagious conditions I diagnose in the pediatric ER – head lice and impetigo. These afflictions often spread quickly because they can go unnoticed at first.
Knowing exactly what to look out for is the best defense when it comes to keeping your entire family happy and healthy for the holidays!