Echinacea. Part 1

Do children become less contagious when they are taking cough and cold medications? If they are not sneezing, blowing their noses, and coughing, perhaps they are not filling the air with as many of their germs. They are still contagious, but could it be they are less contagious?


Each year in the winter months, I treat at least five newborn infants that must be admitted to the hospital for a work-up to exclude a major infection. There are another ten infants who must be admitted for bronchiolitis. An exposure to a simple cold from an older sibling or adult can trigger these illnesses.

My first child, Taylor, was born in May when illness in the environment is at a low. I did not have to give much thought toward prevention of infection. Alexander, on the other hand, was born in mid-October. His arrival has made me give a lot of thought to the hows and whys of contagion. Apart from the sequestration of a young baby in a “plastic bubble,” what can we, as parents, do to protect our infants?

We have long touted Vitamin C for protection against the common cold. Although we have not proven a clearly documented effect, a small amount given as a supplement or the encouragement of citrus foods is not harmful. We do know that Vitamin C promotes wound healing.

Echinacea is an anti-viral and immune formula. People who believe in herbal drugs promote its use. The compound targets the immune system and it enhances protection against viruses. Echinacea is most effective in large doses at the onset of an infection. It is considered safe in appropriate doses for children and pregnant women.

We spread viral illnesses via droplet transmission. A pool of viruses and bacteria are present in the air in any environment. We must take care to reduce the exposure. Vehicles of infection include drooled-on toys and shared cups or utensils. It is conceivable that if we reduce coughing and sneezing with antihistamine/decongestants, we will also reduce the contagiousness. No concrete study is available that documents this. Common sense would suggest this to be true.

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