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What Not To Get For Christmas – Sick!

Friday, December 21, 2012 - Campus News - Contact April Sandefer, (405) 271-5067

For family medicine specialists with OU Physicians, the days that follow family holidays can be quite busy. 

The holidays bring families and friends together, and along with sharing holiday cheer, they often share the pesky bugs that cause illness.

"It's not at all unusual for families to have children or grandchildren who come down with an illness at this time of year," said Kathryn Reilly, M.D., of OU Physicians Family Medicine. "But a little focus on prevention can go a long way toward keeping your family healthy during the holidays."

Frequent hand washing, proper nutrition and adequate sleep remain some of the best defenses.

A Hand-y Prevention Tactic
Hand washing is really important at this time of year, Reilly said.

"Viruses are in the air and some illness is spread by droplets in the air, but primarily the major source of contact is by hand. So the more we wash our hands and the more our kids wash their hands, the fewer infections we are going to have."

Reilly said proper hand washing takes a little effort. Adults and children need to lather their hands with soap and really scrub well for 15 to 30 seconds. However, even a cursory hand washing, if done often, will help keep those pesky bugs at bay. 

Teaching your child a new way to cough is helpful too.

"We no longer want to teach our children to cover their mouths when they cough because we do so much with our hands." Reilly said. "So instead of coughing into your hand, cover your face with your arm and cough into your elbow. This helps keep disease-spreading bugs from getting on your hands and being spread to others."
Also, teach your children not to touch their faces. Sometimes bacteria and viruses can be on surfaces we touch. If we then touch our eyes, nose or mouth, they have entry into our bodies and can cause infection.

A Shot at Prevention
The flu is miserable and being down with influenza is not way to spend the holidays.  If you or your child has not yet had the flu shot, it is not too late to be immunized.

"We are starting to see outbreaks of influenza in states all around us. That means it is only a matter of time before we start seeing cases of influenza crop up here to.  So it's really advisable to roll up your sleeve and get that flu shot," Reilly said.

It's also important to make sure that all of your child's vaccinations are up to date.

Eat Well, Sleep Well
Reilly said it is easy to put healthy nutrition on the back burner in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, but good nutrition helps boost the body's own illness-fighting power. So do keep proper nutrition in mind in the midst of your holiday celebrations.

Family schedules often go out the window during the holiday season. Bedtimes slide to make room for parties and family gatherings, but sleep is really vital to staying healthy.

"I know it can be difficult, but sticking to regular mealtimes and bedtimes helps ensure better nutrition and adequate rest for our children and us," Reilly said.

Stay Home When Sick
If you aren't feeling well, doctors advise you should stay home from work or school to feel better sooner.

Interestingly, Reilly said staying home might not prevent the spread of illness because you're actually contagious days before you experience your first symptoms. But, she explained it will help you feel a lot better, a lot sooner. 

"Any child or adult who has a fever or is just so lethargic and sick that they are not going to be able to pay attention, they should be home," Reilly said. 

Medications can help reduce the fever as well as the aches and pains that go along with many wintertime illnesses; but as the medication wears off, you will start feeling badly again.

The bottom line is that rest is what your body needs most when battling illness. So stay home, rest and drink plenty of fluids. It's just what the doctor ordered to help you or your child get well.

No Magic Pill
Winter-time illness is common and you may want to check in with your pediatrician or family physician, but remember there is not magic pill that will make you suddenly feel better.

"A lot of parents believe that antibiotics will help, but antibiotics are not effective against viruses. So don't expect your doctor to prescribe antibiotics for every illness that your child has," Reilly said. "We know that resistance to antibiotics is going up dramatically and that over-prescribing for minor illnesses is a major cause of that."

Side Bar:

Experts at OU Medicine offer this Rx for caring for common winter-time ailments at home. While these tips may not help you get better faster, they will likely help you feel a whole lot better while you do:

Sore Throat
• Mix a teaspoon of salt in warm water and gargle with it
• Honey can help coat the throat and make it feel better, but do not use in children under one year of age

Fever & Muscle Aches
• Over-the-counter pain relievers help
• Be sure to follow dosing instructions carefully

Sinus Pressure
• Decongestants can help, but be cautious of products that also contain pain relievers if you have already given your child a pain reliever.
• Avoid antihistamines. Though great for allergies, they won't do much for a cold or virus.

• Give child nothing to eat or drink for several hours to help settle the stomach. (Rinsing the mouth is okay.)
• Then introduce liquids gradually – clear liquids only and just an ounce at a time.
• Avoid carbonated beverages, unless you stir out the bubbles first
• Diluted sweet drinks like apple juice or sports drinks can be helpful.

BTW - Mom was probably right about that chicken soup. Because the soup is warm and a little salty, it is soothing on the throat. Warm liquids also help break up some of the congestion.

For more information about ensuring a healthy holiday for the entire family, visit a special web page with helpful topics ranging from eating healthy to keeping peace during the holidays at

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