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Don’t let the flu season get you down this winter

KINETA BOOKER spoke with Te Tahi Youth’s Clinical Team Leader, nurse and mum of two school-aged children, EMMA MAGUIRE, about what’s in store for us this winter season and ways to support your family’s health.

What kinds of illnesses can we expect in the community this winter?

Looking at what’s happened in the northern hemisphere’s winter months gives us an idea of likely illnesses ahead. We expect the usual colds, flu, and other respiratory illnesses such as Covid. Worryingly, some measles cases have appeared in New Zealand recently, and gastro bugs are floating around too!

How can we avoid these bugs?

Hand washing regularly, especially before eating or putting our hands near our mouths, is one of the best ways to protect ourselves from illness. Some people wear a face mask around others, and research shows this offers another layer of protection from illnesses. 

Keeping our immune system as robust as possible helps our body fight off any potential infection. The best ways to do this:

  • Get enough sleep (easier said than done for parents of younger kids!)
  • Eat a variety of foods, including fruit and vegetables, daily.
  • Only drink alcohol occasionally, and don’t smoke or vape. If you do, do so away from children. 
  • Include exercise daily, even playing in the playground with your kids!
  • Check the family’s vaccinations are up-to-date. Vaccinations help our body fight off many diseases when exposed. The influenza (flu) vaccination is available now. 
  • Avoid people who are sick and discourage people who ‘just have a cold’ from visiting until they are better – try an online catch-up instead.

How can we manage flus, colds and tummy bugs at home? 

Stay at home! Can someone else help with the kids if a parent is sick? Rest where possible to help our bodies recover faster. Have plenty of fluids, including water, ice blocks, juice, tea and coffee (for adults).

Dehydration is a common reason for people needing hospital care when unwell. Ask your pharmacy about medication that might help symptoms, like paracetamol for pain or fever and throat lozenges for sore throats. Honey can be useful for sore throats but should not be given to children under one year. Chest rubs can also give some relief.

Remember, seek further advice immediately if a family member becomes more unwell, develops a high fever, has trouble breathing, or a child is unusually drowsy or floppy. Contact Healthline, your doctor or go to urgent care.

When the first person becomes sick, for example with Covid, is it best for the rest of the family to wear masks and isolate, or let the bugs spread quickly among the family?

If possible, I think it is best to wear masks and isolate, as a mild cold for one family member may cause serious illness in another family member. Of course, it isn’t always practical to do this, but trying to avoid spreading any illness is ideal.

Many of us have become accustomed to using sanitiser all the time, along with regular hand washing. Should we still be using sanitiser? How clean do our hands actually have to be?

Washing hands with soap and water and then drying them well is great in most situations, or hand sanitiser when you don’t have access to hand-washing facilities. However, for some people with eczema, for example, using hand sanitiser can be very painful. 

As a full-time working mum, how do you manage when your children are sick?

It’s so tricky. When my kids are sick, I try to make the situation less stressful for all. We watch movies or favourite TV programmes and play easy, quick board games – Connect 4 is a favourite! I often make ‘picking plates’, as they don’t feel like full meals.

I understand the difficulty of being a working parent with sick kids. I don’t know the answer, but workplaces should understand about keeping sick people at home to stop spreading illness and to support faster recovery. Now that my kids are older, they seem to get sick less often, so for parents of younger kids, hang in there. It does get better. 

Emma Maguire works alongside youth health champion Dame Sue Bagshaw at Te Tahi Youth – formerly 298 Youth Services. Emma has worked as a nurse for 25 years and loves working with young people – she says she learns something from her patients every day and loves seeing them grow and develop into fantastic adults!

Sleep safe, my baby

SIDS and Kids New Zealand is dedicated to saving the lives of babies and children during pregnancy, birth, infancy and childhood, and supporting bereaved families. The organisation delivers on its vision through world-class research, evidence-based education and bereavement support, and advocacy.

Remind everyone who cares for your child:

  • Sleep baby on their back
  • Keep head and face uncovered
  • Safe sleeping environment night and day
  • Sleep baby in a safe cot in parents’ room
  • Keep baby smoke-free before and after birth.

SIDS and Kids provides a range of safe sleeping education and support services as well as a national 24-hour sudden infant death helpline.

0800 164 455 / sidsandkids.org.nz

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