Ahh! It's RSV and Flu Season- What Can I Do?
Updated: Jan 17
How To Keep Your Baby Healthy During the RSV and Flu Season
In the last few weeks there have been a lot of articles and news stories about this year’s flu season being one of the worst in recent years. On top of that, many parents worry about RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) after hearing stories from other parents. Parents may be wondering if they are doing enough to keep their baby safe. As pediatric registered nurses, we have seen firsthand how these viruses can impact the littlest of lungs. Below are seven easy ways to help protect you and your baby this cold and flu season.
1.) Wash your hands….and often! This is not a new concept, but we cannot stress this enough. In nursing school we would make the joke that if there was ever a multiple choice question with an answer of “hand washing”- that was always the answer. If the question asked about cardiac care of an adult- the answer is still wash your hands! It is so important that nursing schools and post-nursing school exams continuously reinforce the topic.
How you wash your hands matters, too. Make sure you are washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap to kill the most germs. Make sure to get all the cracks and crevices! If a sink is not close, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer should be used. Hand sanitizer is wonderful if you are in a rush, but hand washing is always the most effective. Since germs are transmitted through eyes, nose, and the mouth, it is best to wash your hands especially after shaking someone’s hand, touching highly touched surfaces (business doors, public door knobs, shopping carts, etc.), and after coming in contact with someone else who is sick. We also suggest having visitors wash their hands every time they enter your home. Adults are not as affected by viruses as your baby, therefore may not be showing signs or symptoms that they are sick. Your friends may make fun of you for being a crazy person- but hey, your baby will thank you!
2.) Get your flu shot. I know, I know… you’re sick of hearing about the flu shot. These days, it seems everyone has a strong opinion about the flu shot, both good and bad. As nurses, we have time and time again seen the positive outcomes of flu shots. Your baby cannot get the flu shot until he is six months old, but the rest of the family can and should. This is something we learn in school referred to as “herd immunity”- meaning if the surrounding family members are protected against certain strains of the flu by getting the flu shot, then the baby is less likely to pick up the flu virus as well (this is also how certain diseases have been eradicated even though not every person in the world can get immunizations… but we digress).
3.) Do not touch your face. Most germs enter our body through our mouth, eyes, and nose. It is best to try and avoid touching these areas, especially in public due to the increased chance of your hands being dirty. Most people touch their faces far more than they are consciously aware of, so trying to be more aware will help protect yourself and your baby.
4.) Sanitize high-traffic surfaces. Bleaching or disinfecting your entire home top to bottom every day is not necessary. In theory, if everyone who enters your home (including you) thoroughly hand washes, then disinfecting is not necessary, riiiight? So, no need to get too crazy on this one. Use your judgement. If a family member visited and seems ill, then Lysol can be your friend. Simply disinfecting the high-traffic surfaces mentioned in number one once or twice a week should help.
Sanitizing your cell phone is something we highly recommend. Think about how frequently you touch your cell phone with your hands, how often it touches your face and how close it gets to your hands and ears. Cell phones harbor many germs and can be a culprit for transmitting germs. We recommend UV light cell phone sanitizers. They can be purchased here on Amazon. If you are looking for a less expensive option, there are also special phone sanitizing wipes.
5.) Keep your newborn inside. It is often recommended if you have a newborn during the winter months to keep him inside for the first two to three months of life. Infants are still adjusting to their new environment and there are many new germs around. A lot of sickness can be spread through the air (called airborne sicknesses). For many parents it is not realistic to stay inside for multiple days. On days when you run errands or are just plain losing your mind and need fresh air, it is best to keep your newborn covered. This means in the stroller with a cover over it or in a baby carrier with a lightweight cover to help block airborne germs.
6.) Do not let others touch or kiss your baby. This topic has been in recent campaign ads and trending on twitter, and we are so thankful for that. It is so natural for people to see a cute baby and want to touch them or hold their precious little hand, but unfortunately, it is something that can lead to sickness. As mentioned before, it helps to keep your baby in a stroller with a cover. One reason is for germs, but another reason is so others are not as tempted to touch your baby. If someone does manage to break the barrier, you can politely ask them to not touch to help avoid potential sickness. If you feel extra uncomfortable doing this, carry travel size hand sanitizer and ask them to please sanitize first! If you want to be extra aggressive, this is a very effective sign you can order. No shame in protecting your baby!
But how am I supposed to tell my 90-year-old grandma to not touch the new baby? We are glad you asked. Most family members are very understanding. Ask them to wash their hands or sanitize, first, then hold the baby. Overall, holding the baby is okay if hands have been washed thoroughly first. However, kissing the baby is never okay during cold and flu season. Grandma will surely understand.
7.) Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. You can help your body fight illness with natural vitamins and minerals. Some of the best fruits and vegetables are mushrooms (they have antiviral properties), garlic (assist in natural killing cells), kiwi (has lots of vitamin C), and pumpkin seeds (contains Zinc and vitamin E, both help fight sickness). Keeping yourself and other members of the household free of sickness is the best way for your baby to stay healthy, too. For more information click here.
Jeri Ford, RN, BSN, CPN
Kayla Loschky, RN, BSN