How to Avoid Viruses This Winter

As we move into another winter in the Black Hills, parents may wonder what they can do to protect the health of their kids. We asked a local pediatrician for easy yet effective ways to help you and your family stay as healthy as possible this winter.

Know your viruses

Seasonal viruses usually refer to ones most often responsible for what we call the common cold, like an adenovirus or rhinovirus. There is no cure, or vaccine, for the common cold. The best way to avoid catching a cold is to wash your hands frequently or use hand sanitizer, avoid touching your face, and avoid others who are sick. 

Influenza is another common virus that causes the illness we call “the flu.” Symptoms can be similar to a cold, and may include fever, chills, muscle aches, cough, congestion, runny nose, and headaches. Unlike a cold, however, the flu can be severe and can lead to hospitalization and even death. You can read more about identifying flu vs. cold symptoms here, but check with your family physician if you’re unsure.

Many believe that these viruses only affect older members of the population, but that isn’t the case. Children of all ages can get sick and pass a virus onto friends, classmates and family. Although it occurs much less frequently than with adults, children and teens can also be afflicted with lingering symptoms, such as pain, fatigue, trouble sleeping, headaches, and difficulty concentrating that can last for months. 

Steps to stay healthy

While viruses are more common this time of year, there are ways you can protect yourself and your family. Washing hands regularly, avoiding large crowds, and not touching your face are great first steps. Making sure to eat a balanced diet and getting plenty of rest also help keep your immune system in peak condition. 

You also have the option of getting vaccinated against some seasonal viruses. Getting a flu shot can greatly reduce the likelihood of getting influenza, and it’s recommended that everyone 6 months of age and older consider getting a flu shot, with rare exceptions. There is now also the option of getting a COVID-19 vaccine for children as young as 5. Vaccines are an option that can greatly reduce the risk of your family catching these viruses. 

If you feel uncertain about vaccination, want more information, or if your child is exhibiting symptoms of illness, the best thing you can do is to speak with your family physician or pediatrician. They will be able to give you the latest information about ways your family can stay healthy all winter long.

Learn more about ways to kickstart a healthy immune system to help keep your family healthy!

Tara Ulmer, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician at Monument Health’s Spearfish Clinic. She enjoys caring for a variety of children’s needs, ranging from acute illnesses to complicated long term needs. Dr. Ulmer is a member of the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. She also is certified in the following: Pediatric Advanced Life Support Program, Neonatal Resuscitation Program, Basic Life Support for Healthcare Providers, Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support Program and S.T.A.B.L.E (Neonatal stabilization program).