I just about fainted when I heard the doctor say those two words. Norwalk virus? That invader of hospitals and cruise ships, killer of the elderly…how could my child have Norwalk virus?
Turns out, there’s been a mini-outbreak of this nasty virus in my community. Nurses and other staff at the children’s hospital have been inflicted in such numbers that it’s made the news. Children and teachers are missing days on end of school. Queasy is the new black, it seems, this season.
And Norwalk is no fun. It’s very contagious, and quite a bit more severe than your garden variety gastroenteritis. If three to five days of vomiting and high fever doesn’t sound like a party to you, then trust me: you don’t want to catch Norwalk virus.
But my little girl did, and it meant a longish absence from work for me, and from school for her. And as it happens, she wasn’t alone – of course, once she had started throwing up, I found out that several of her friends had missed school earlier in the week for a similar stomach bug. Shaking my fist at the universe as I cleaned up (yet another) bucket of barf, I cursed those nasty bugs and the fact that young children don’t really get the whole hand-washing thing. Not well enough to prevent illnesses like Norwalk, anyway.
So: with winter here, we’ve got veritable armies of germs lining up in their ranks just ready to attack. As grownups, we know very well that it’s important to wash our hands – a lot – and that it may be the single most important thing we can do to prevent illness during the “sick season”. But what about the little ones? How can we get the message to stick for them, too? Let’s face it: we can’t really stop them from touching each other, or sharing pencils, scissors, rulers, etc. etc. during their active school day.
The good news is this: most elementary school classrooms have sinks in them already, so kids don’t even have to ask to be excused to give their hands a quick clean-up. Also: teachers, schools and by extension, children, are a lot more aware of how important hand washing is to disease prevention, so I think the practice is slowly seeping into the collective consciousness.
I send my kids to school with little hand sanitizer dispensers, and I encourage them to wash their hands frequently, but that didn’t help us fend off Norwalk this week, although I do believe it was my zealous scrubbing that kept me from falling ill myself after caring for – and cleaning up after – my little one. I have the chapped knuckles to prove it!
Other than trying to build healthy habits when we’re around our kids, and arming them with additional tools like sanitizer, what other tips and tricks do you use to help keep your kids healthy during this germy time of year?