Winter time is virus time. Unfortunately the colder weather brings with it many dreaded viral infections. In my practice it seems as if someone has turned on a tap for viral infections in late April & then the same person turns the tap off in October. Those 6 months are noticeably busier for me, my specialist colleagues & all GPs. As the days grow shorter & autumn turns to winter the temperature begins to fall. Pleasant sunny days in the mid-20s become cooler days where the temperature can be close to zero in the early morning & only peak in the mid to low teens.
This is particularly the case with the southern states in Australia. Luckily our winters are nothing like the winters in the USA & Europe. In those climates temperatures can drop to a bone chilling minus 25-30 degrees.
So why do children get more infections in the winter months? There are probably 2 reasons. The first is that children & adults spend much more time indoors breathing & coughing on each other than they do in summer months when they outside enjoying the many summer activities on offer. The other reason is that very cold weather reduces are ability to fight infections by interfering with our defence mechanisms in our throat & airways. So it is no surprise that for many children winter is one long procession of viral infections. This is particularly so for young children attending day care. It may surprise some parents but it can be normal for children under the age of 2 years to experience on average 6 chest infections per winter. Often it seems that they have not recovered from one infection before the next one starts. The commonest viruses are Respiratory Syncitial Virus (which causes bronchiolitis), adenovirus and influenza.
So what can parents do to minimise the chances of their young children getting sick during winter? Firstly ensure that your child eats a nutritious diet & gets enough sleep. Secondly always wash your hands after touching an un-well child. Make sure that they use a tissue & limit their coughing around the rest of the family. If a child has a high temperature & a green runny nose it is unwise to send them to day care or school. They will just infect everyone else. Also for children older than 6 months they may be eligible for an annual flu vaccination. Please check with your GP about the latest guidelines. Parents and grandparents can certainly help things by getting the annual flu jab for themselves.
Most importantly remember - winter will pass, the days will get warmer & your child’s nose will stop running….