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Avoiding common childhood illnesses this winter

Dr Hamish Black

Handy steps to keep the whole family healthy this winter.

Mother helping son to blow his nose
Mother helping son to blow his nose

Some winters can feel like one long illness as children get sick time and time again. It's impossible to prevent illness altogether, but there are steps you can take to keep the whole family as well as possible. 

What are some common winter childhood illnesses? 

Most common winter childhood illnesses are caused by viruses, opens in a new tab. These include the common cold, flu, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and bronchiolitis; a viral chest infection most common in babies under six months, opens in a new tab.  

Most cases are mild and can be treated with rest at home, but very occasionally there can be complications, opens in a new tab like ear infection, laryngitis or croup. 

We are also seeing a rise in whooping cough, opens in a new tab – a serious and very contagious bacterial infection – perhaps because many routine vaccinations were missed at the height of the pandemic. 

Sickness in a childcare setting 

If carers suspect your child has an infectious illness, they will probably ask you to collect them as soon as possible in the hope of preventing an outbreak. They may also ask for a medical certificate to confirm that your child is no longer infectious before they return to care. 

Why illnesses spread faster in childcare 

The viruses that cause common illnesses are spread by sneezes, coughs, physical contact and touching contaminated surfaces. In cold weather, children are more likely to be in close contact as they spend more time indoors and viruses can stay in the air and on surfaces, opens in a new tab for longer and kids’ resistance to these illnesses may be lower. It would also come as no surprise that our kids have poorer hygiene practices – using their sleeves, arms or hands to wipe their nose and not bothering to cover their mouth when coughing or sneezing.   

How to help your kid avoid getting sick this winter  

The most effective thing you can do to protect your child is ensure they’re up to date with their immunisations, opens in a new tab. If someone at a childcare centre has an illness that can be prevented by immunisation, children who haven’t been immunised won’t be able to attend.  

What to do if your child comes home sick  

Antibiotics don’t work against viruses, so you’ll need to focus on keeping your child comfortable, opens in a new tab. Treat any pain with the recommended dose of paracetamol, never aspirin, opens in a new tab, and encourage them to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Saline nasal drops may help to ease a blocked nose.  

Minimising sickness in your household  

Encourage the whole family to help prevent viruses spreading from person to person.   

  • Wash your hands, opens in a new tab with warm soapy water after sneezing, coughing and blowing your nose. 

  • Cough into your elbow. 

  • Don’t share cups or cutlery with someone who is unwell. 

  • Throw tissues away as soon as you’ve used them and wash your hands afterwards. 

While it’s impossible to avoid illness entirely, taking proactive steps can help keep the entire family healthier during the cooler months. For more tips on staying healthy this winter, check out our flu article series, starting with debunking some common flu myths and everything you need to know about this year’s flu shot.

The information in this article is general information and should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Do not use the information found on this page as a substitute for professional health care advice. Any information you find on this page or on external sites which are linked to on this page should be verified with your professional healthcare provider. 

Dr Hamish Black

Dr Hamish Black

Dr Hamish Black

Dr Hamish Black has been a medical practitioner for more than 25 years. In addition to his role as nib group medical advisor, he still spends two days a week practising as a GP. He has spent many years working in emergency departments and in rural Australia, including a stint with the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Hamish also loves karaoke and dancing (though not that well at either, he says!), with Play that Funky Music by Wild Cherry being his karaoke favourite.