Each year as winter sets in, we all know what comes out: germs. As cold and flu season gets under way, what can parents do to keep their children healthy?

First, know the difference between the common cold and influenza.

“Because these two types of illnesses have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them, but there are a few clues,” said Dr. W. Blake Johnson, owner of The Children’s Clinic of Fredericksburg. “The common cold is usually milder than the flu. People with colds are more likely to have a cough and a runny or stuffy nose. People with the flu may have a stuffy nose and a cough but may also have a fever greater than 100.5 degrees, a sore throat, muscle or body aches, headaches and severe fatigue.”

Johnson recommends these do’s and don’ts for combatting colds or the flu:

  • Avoid contact with people who are sick
  • Stay hydrated and well-rested
  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Remind children to avoid touching their mouth, nose and eyes to decrease the spread of germs
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces often
  • Get the flu shot early. Don’t wait to get the flu shot until after you’ve been exposed to others who have influenza.
  • Don’t send kids to school when they are sick. Children should not return to school until they are fever-free for at least 24 hours.

Antibiotics only treat bacterial infections. Since viruses cause the common cold and the flu, antibiotics won’t work. In addition, “Over-the-counter vitamins may generally help the body, but they do not treat the common cold and flu,” said Johnson. “Taking cough and cold medicine may temporarily help you feel better, but they do not decrease the duration of the illness nor decrease the spread of the germs. What works is prescription medication from your doctor, rest, fluids to stay hydrated, rest, cough or cold medication to treat symptoms only and rest. And hugs.”

Johnson also suggests following up with a physician if any symptoms worsen.

“Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, but the flu can have severe complications such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations,” Johnson said. “So, if your child has a high fever, especially if they are under three months old with a temperature of greater than 100.5 degrees, has symptoms of dehydration such as dry lips or skin, a decrease in peeing, lack of energy, a decrease in liquid intake, or severe fatigue, you should call your doctor.”