A Guide to Winter Illnesses

The best tips from top experts - including grandma - on how to deal with this year's winter illnesses

A Guide to Winter IllnessesThe snow and subzero temperatures of Canada’s coldest months are back — and with them, the red, runny noses, aching bones and hacking coughs of wintertime illness. We’ve consulted with top experts so that this year, when your little ones come down with one of the eight ailments listed below, you can take a page out of our book and make them feel a whole lot better.

Stomach Flu

The basics
Incubation period: Depending on the specific bug, from a couple of hours up to five days.
Contagious period: In general, as long as symptoms persist.
Symptoms: Abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, headache, fever.

An epidemiologist says:
Dr. Joanne Embree, head of the section of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg

To avoid spreading the illness to everyone in the household, prevent germs from taking flight by putting the lid down before flushing — and keep toothbrushes at least a few feet away from the toilet.

A family doctor says:
Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, a family doctor in Ottawa

If your child is unable to hold anything down, there’s no point feeding her. Wait four hours after she throws up, then try a sip of clear fluid — Pedialyte for younger kids, flat ginger ale for older kids. If she can hold that down, move on quickly to solids that are easy digested, such as crackers.

A naturopath says:
Dr. Julie Zepp Rutledge, a doctor of naturopathic medicine in Regina

Try vegetable broths (sans MSG), herbal teas (including anise, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves), ginger drops or chewable tablets, as well as probiotics. Echinacea and hyssop tinctures (a liquid form of an herbal supplement that can be added to water or juice) or syrups can help boost the immune system.

Grandma says:
Baba Rossos (a.k.a. Mary Rossos), grandmother of eight in Toronto

Avoid milk, and have her drink clear fluids like apple juice without sugar. Feed her plain rice and white plain chicken, cooked.

Common Cold

The basics
Incubation period: Usually a couple of days.
Contagious period: As long as symptoms persist.
Symptoms: Stuffy nose, coughing, sore throat, sneezing.

An epidemiologist says:
Here, and with all viruses, lots of quality handwashing is key. And if you have an infant in her first few months of life, (politely) ask those with colds to stay away — and if that proves impossible, ask them to stand at least three or four feet away from the baby.

A family doctor says:
While the virus must simply run its course, you may want to administer a little acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help lower fever, ease discomfort, and keep him eating and drinking. In all cases, especially with younger children, if your child is displaying lethargy or has a high fever, have him seen by a doctor.

A naturopath says:
Give your child Vitamin C in chewable or powder form, as well as zinc lozenges, which can soothe while boosting the immune system. Also, try echinacea and astragalus tinctures.

Grandma says:
Serve homemade chicken rice soup with celery and carrots, and squeeze in a fresh lemon. Rub Vicks on his chest, back and the bottoms of his feet and cover with cotton socks.

Strep Throat

The basics
Incubation period: Two to five days
Contagious period: Up to 24 to 48 hours after initial dose of antibiotics.
Symptoms: Sore throat, trouble swallowing and fever, and some children may have rash, swollen tender glands in neck.

An epidemologist says:
Antibiotics are extremely important, both for the wellbeing of the child with the illness and for those trying to avoid picking it up. If you suspect strep, get him to the doctor for testing, and if positive, get him on antibiotics, which in turn reduces the contagious factor and the risk of serious complications.

A family doctor says:
If you see the signs of strep — severe sore throat, high fever (above 102°F), foul smell on breath, rash, but not much sneezing or coughing — make sure to get her to a doctor for assessment and testing. If it’s strep, she’ll need antibiotics. Again, acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help relieve pain.

A naturopath says:
A strep test and antibiotics are essential. Support her throat tissues with slippery elm lozenges, which can heal local tissue damage. Give her calendula and yarrow in tea or syrup form to reduce throat inflammation.

Grandma says:
See the doctor for a prescription. Make sure she gets lots of rest, and have her gargle with lukewarm salt water.

Influenza

The basics
Incubation period: 24 hours to five days.
Contagious period: Day before symptoms arrive until symptoms subside.
Symptoms: Body and muscle aches, chills, cough, fever, headache, sore throat.

An epidemiologist says:
Immunization. Also, keep your eyes open for flu alerts, and minimize trips to the mall and other public places, especially when an alert has been sounded for your city. For information on your area, check out phac-aspc.gc.ca/fluwatch (the Public Health Agency of Canada’s FluWatch website).

A family doctor says:
Fluids and nutrition are important. Start with softer foods like soups with a clear broth or grate up an apple, which can be eaten gradually. Re-hydrate with soothing cold drinks and, for older kids, popsicles.

A naturopath says:
Give him homeopathic arsenicum album, as well as oscillococcinum (both in the form of dissolvable pellets), a popular natural remedy that’s been shown to lessen the severity and length of flu symptoms. Doses of Vitamin A and elderberry syrup may also help.

Grandma says:
See cold remedies above — they’ll work here, too. Also, as in all cases, administer lots and lots of cuddles, TLC and stories.

Viral croup

The basics
Incubation period: Two to six days.
Contagious period: As long as symptoms persist.
Symptoms: Harsh cough that sounds like a seal barking, worse at night, laboured breathing.

An epidemiologist says:
Cancel play dates and generally try to avoid contact with those affected. Interestingly, while this virus is generally associated with young children, older kids and adults can become infected, but display symptoms similar to a mild influenza.

A family doctor says:
If your child is under two and displaying a barky, seal-like croup cough, it’s important that he sees a doctor. To provide relief, try some humidity and steam — run your child a bath, or use a vaporizer with cool mist, which sometimes works even better.

A naturopath says:
Liquid Vitamin A and Vitamin D (400 IU for kids), one drop of each, can help. Try the tea, tincture or syrup forms of mullein, licorice, catnip, and marshmallow (the herb, not the candy!). Also, run a warm bath with essential oils such as rosemary, lavender and thyme, and ensure there’s lots of steam.

Grandma says:
A little fresh air may help. Also, rub a facecloth or sponge with lukewarm water and white vinegar and run over his sore muscle joints.

Ringworm

The basics
Incubation period: N/A
Contagious period: Until properly treated
Symptoms: A fungus transmitted through close contact, it is marked by a round, red lesion or, alternatively, flaky white to yellow scales, on the scalp, body, groin or feet. It’s also possible to carry it without symptoms.

An epidemiologist says:
Avoid sharing combs, caps, hair accessories and clothing. And you may need to look at your pets for the source of the problem.

A family doctor says:
Should be treated with a prescription cream. Good skin care can help prevent this fungus — make sure your child’s clothes don’t chafe and that his skin can breathe (for example, don’t overdress him in four layers when he has a long car ride).

A naturopath says:
Apply a tea tree and rosemary essential oil wash to the affected area. Also, administer a variety of oral treatments, including goldenseal, black walnut and probiotics.

Grandma says:
See the doctor for a prescription.

Dry skin

The basics
Incubation period: N/A
Contagious period: Not infectious
Symptoms: Abnormally dry skin, marked by a red, scaly appearance.

An epidemiologist says:
While dry skin is not something that’s transmitted kid-to-kid, eczema is a related condition. Scratching results in breaks in the skin that are exploited by bacteria, and this can lead to an increased risk of acquiring the superbug MRSA. Treat the itch with a cream or moisturizer to prevent the scratching.

A family doctor says:
Lock in moisture right after a bath or shower with a creamy unscented moisturizer. If dry skin approaches eczema, talk to your doctor about alternative creams.

A naturopath says:
Rub on a soothing, restorative rescue cream, such as Rescue Cream by Bach, and give her doses of essential fatty acids such as high-quality cod liver oil. Also try applying Graphites homeopathic remedy, which has been known to help skin conditions.

Grandma says:
Make sure she applies lots of moisturizer, and avoid bubble baths. Bathe in lukewarm, rather than hot, water.

Earache

The basics
Incubation period: A couple of days.
Contagious period: As long as symptoms persist.
Symptoms: Usually precipitated by another virus, such as a cold, which can lead to a tube blockage which then develops a secondary bacterial infection. Sharp, dull or burning pain.

An epidemiologist says:
Use the same preventative measures as those related to other viruses, such as handwashing and avoidance. However, if earache is not accompanied by cold or flu symptoms, see a doctor, as this type may be a bacterial infection that needs to be treated with antibiotics.

A family doctor says:
If it’s tolerable, control the pain with acetaminophen or ibuprofen, but have him seen by a doctor if accompanied by high fever, lethargy, night waking, or if pain lasts longer than 48 hours. Cold or warm packs applied to the ear can be a comfort, and try to distract him to take his mind off the pain.

A naturopath says:
Give him garlic and mullein ear drops two to three times per day, which have antibacterial and antiviral properties.

Grandma says:
Try warm compresses on the ear; rubbing Vicks VapoRub behind the ear may also help.

On sick days, contributing editor Tim Johnson warms up his pajamas in the dryer before settling in on the couch.

Keep reading for the deal on superbugs and how to fight them.

One response to “A Guide to Winter Illnesses”

  1. 3Mama says:

    There is no such thing as a stomach flu; the flu is short for influenza; what you described is gastroenteritis.

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