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Somebody in our family usually gets sick over the holiday break, ruining our trips. But there are ways you can recognize and cope with what's going around in the world of germs.

Students hang out in a bundle of bugs at school -- other kids spreading germs, not washing their hands, clueless about their snotty noses.

Along with their heavy backpacks, children drag home the ingredients for strep throats, colds and the flu. To make matters worse, stressful workloads, perfectionism and exhaustion after exams make it tough for students' immune systems to switch into a healthy time-off mode.

Similar to working adults who fall apart on vacations, industrious kids can succumb to the sickness they've fought off at school. What helps the immune system, health-professionals say: Ease into the transition of traveling; exercise and drink plenty of fluids. Also, get your child in the habit of washing his hands thoroughly several times a day, and not sharing his beverages.

Ways to boost your child's immune system, in addition to serving lots of fruits and vegetables, include giving echinacea, a natural herb; Vitamin C and the mineral zinc, according to Dr. William Sears, a pediatrician who has practiced for more than 30 years.

Pay close attention to symptoms and use informed judgment before racing to your health-care provider. Here are tips from Sears on sorting out and treating common flu and sore throats:

Let's say your child doesn't seem himself, slows down, and has had a runny nose and some coughing. He complains of a headache and sore throat. Next, his body aches all over. He has a high fever and chills. His cough gets worse and he starts vomiting. The flu virus, not treatable with antibiotics, is typically some combination of these symptoms.

Guidelines, Sears says:

Focus on treating the symptoms that seem to bother your child the most, such as ibuprofen for head and body aches and fever; and a nasal decongestant if needed.

Keep your child hydrated with lots of fluids, given in small amounts at a time if necessary.

Ibuprofen is often better for the aches and pains of the flu than acetaminophen.

When your child starts complaining about his throat, Sears says, don't run your child to the doctor at the first sign. See which direction the illness is going.

Some sore throats are caused by a bacteria, strep, which can be treated with antibiotics. Other sore throats are caused by virus and cannot be treated with antibiotics.

If your child begins to fit the picture of strep throat, go see your doctor.

Fever is common to strep throat. A child typically has swollen neck glands, and pain with swallowing. Strep throat usually does not cause multiple symptoms such as runny nose, cough and congestion, Sears says on his Web site, The illness can cause a red throat with bright red spots on the back of the palate and white pus on the tonsils, but not always, Sears says.

It is uncommon for a child less than age 3 to get strep throat, he explains, and in older kids it is often difficult to tell whether your child has strep throat or has a severe sore throat. If your child is acting lethargic and looks very sick even when the fever is down, take your child to the doctor that day.

Pain relievers such as ibuprofen, aside from treating the fever, will also help with the headache, sore throat and body aches from the virus.

About fevers: What's a normal temperature depends on the child, varies throughout the day and can range from 97 to 100.5 F, according to "The Children's Hospital Guide to Your Child's Health and Development" (Perseus, 2001). Talk to your pediatrician at a checkup about what a high fever range would be for your child, such as 102 to 103 F.

Can you help?

I've been happily divorced for seven years. The problem is I have to deal with my ex sometimes, and I've gotten so angry that I've told my kids what I think of their dad. He left me for my best friend, and I never want to see her. What can I do to stop getting so mad and wanting my kids to hate their dad?

-- A Mother in Fredericksburg, Va.
If you have tips or a question, call toll-free (800) 827-1092, send e-mail to or write to Parent to Parent, P.O. Box 4270, Davidson, N.C. 28036.

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