Health advice

Managing winter infections

Child washing their hands with their parent

Infections are illnesses that are caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites. They are more common in winter and can make you feel unwell. Read more to find out how you can protect yourself and your child against winter infections.

What is an infection?

An infection refers to any illness that happens because of bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites.

They are often harmless, but some can be harmful. When harmful germs get in your system, they can make you feel poorly. Some common infectious illnesses include cold and flu.1

How do infections spread?

Infections are contagious, which mean they can spread from person to person.1

Infections can spread through the air in water droplets from people’s breath, sneezes or coughs.

They can also be spread by someone coming into contact with an infected area, like touching an infected cut on someone’s skin.1

That is why it is important for your child to learn good hygiene especially when they are ill and around people with an infection.

To avoid your child getting an infection, you should:

  • Teach your child to wash their hands with soap after going to the toilet, or touching animals and before touching food
  • Encourage your child to cough or sneeze into a tissue and throw the tissue away after it has been used
  • Encourage your child to cough or sneeze into their elbow if they don’t have a tissue
  • Clean toys, door handles and other shared surfaces when your child, or someone else in their home is unwell
  • Cover cuts and grazes with plasters to stop them from bleeding and stop infections spreading.1,2
  • Your child can protect others from infection by covering their mouth and nose when they cough or sneeze with a tissue. The tissue should be thrown in the bin after it has been used. If they don’t have a tissue, they can cough or sneeze into their elbow crease to avoid their hands coming into contact with the infection.2

    Are some people more likely to get an infection?

    There are some people who are more likely to get infections than others. These people are sometimes described as vulnerable.

    These people include:

  • People 65 and over
  • Children under the age of 5
  • People with long-term conditions or disabilities
  • Pregnant women
  • People with mental health conditions.3
  • If your child is unwell and you know someone who is vulnerable, you should keep your child away from them until they are better.

    How do I stop my child getting an infection?

    It can be easy for infections to spread in school, so it is important your child knows how to have good personal hygiene.

    It is also important that your child is up to date with their vaccines to make sure they are protected against common infections such as chickenpox and flu. This will help stop them from getting some infectious illnesses.

    A full list of vaccines your child should get as they grow up can be found on the NHS website.

    Sometimes, you or someone you live with may be eligible for a free flu vaccine, you can check on the NHS website.

    Should I send my child to school if they're ill?

    Your child should attend school if:

  • They feel well and have no symptoms of an infection
  • They feel well but have a small cough, sore throat or runny nose
  • They do not have a temperature.1
  • If your child has a temperature, has diarrhoea or vomiting or feels unwell, they should avoid school until their symptoms have improved.

    If your child has diarrhoea and vomiting, they should wait 2 days after their symptoms have stopped before going back to school.4,5

    The NHS has a full list of conditions children can and cannot go to school with here.

    Visit your nearest pharmacy

    Get support and advice from your local Well pharmacist

    Where can I get further information and advice?

    NHS inform

    Information and support if you live in Scotland, including advice on managing winter illnesses.

    NHS website

    Information about infections, including symptoms, how to treat infections at home and how to stop the spread of infections.

    1. What infections are, how they are transmitted and those at higher risk of infection. GOV.UK. Accessed August 14, 2023.
    2. Preventing and controlling infections. GOV.UK. Accessed August 10, 2023.
    3. How to stay well in winter. Published January 18, 2022. Accessed August 14, 2023.
    4. Winter illness. Accessed August 14, 2023.
    5. Diarrhoea and vomiting. Published April 16, 2018. Accessed July 6, 2023.

    Published September 2023

    Next review: September 2026

    Reviewer: Mital Thakrar

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