Healthy Family

These 'Healthy Family' features highlight preventative health conditions amongst families. This feature looks at ways to keep colds and flu at bay...

Also in the Healthy Family Series:


Be Germ Smart

Dr Vicki Young and Dr Cliodna McNulty, from Public Health England Primary Care Unit, have the following advice on how to adopt good hygiene practices:

The spread of colds, flu and other illnesses is common in the winter months, particularly through schools, where children are exposed to germs (also known as microbes) on a daily basis.

By teaching children good hygiene practices, not only can we help prevent our children from becoming ill but we can also protect others around us, for example elderly family members who may be more susceptible to infection.

Furthermore, if we teach children how to keep themselves healthy at a young age, we can set healthy behaviours for life.

There are two very simple ways we can prevent the spread of infection: hand washing and covering coughs and sneezes.

Children, and adults alike, should wash their hands with warm water and soap when they have been in contact with potentially harmful microbes. This includes after going to the toilet, sneezing or coughing into the hands, stroking a pet, playing outside, visiting someone who is ill or touching raw or unwashed food. It is also important to wash hands before eating meals or snacks.

To ensure all areas of the hands are washed, and all harmful microbes removed, there are 6 steps to handwashing: palm to palm; backs of hands; in between the fingers; the backs of fingers, the thumb and finally the finger tips.

It is important to use soap as this breaks up the oils on our hands which trap microbes. We should wash our hands for the length of time it takes to sing happy birthday twice, or children could make up their own song that last about 20 seconds to sing whilst hand washing!

Another simple way to stop the spread of infection is to cover coughs and sneezes. Sneezes are full of germs which can be spread up to 3 metres at a speed of 100 mph!

To prevent germs spreading in this way, coughs and sneezes should be covered with a tissue, which can then be thrown in the bin. If no tissue is available, you can cough or sneeze into your sleeve.

If you cough or sneeze into your hands, germs can still spread through touch, so hands should be washed with warm water and soap immediately after.

If your child does get ill, you can rest assured that most common infections get better by themselves with rest and fluids. This includes coughs, colds, most sore throats and ear infections. Children should be kept at home when they are ill, to recover and prevent the spread of infection to others in their school. You can get child-friendly advice on self-care and pain relief from your pharmacist.

Some infections may need to be treated with antibiotics. You should always take your child to your GP if their symptoms get worse or last longer than expected. The Public Health England Managing Your Infection leaflet (see explains how long common symptoms usually last. For common infections this is:



More serious infections may require immediate hospital treatment. For example, sepsis is a rare but serious complication caused by an infection. Some of the signs of sepsis are:


If your child has these symptoms take them straight away to A&E or call 999.


Find out more:

Public Health England’s e-Bug resources ( are a fun and interactive way for children to learn about good hygiene practices, microbes and antibiotics. Here they can play online educational games or try simple science experiments at home. As well as information for children e-Bug resources also has resources for educators.






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