It is that time of year when we are getting our kids ready for school. Whether your kids are attending kindergarten this year or they are off to college, there are some little, but important things that you can do to help prevent them from getting illnesses like the H1N1 virus, more commonly known as swine flu. The key is good preparation.
Keep Vaccinations Up-to-Date
Prior to school starting make sure your children are up-to-date on their vaccinations and health physicals. Check to see if your child needs a health physical this year for school. Checkups are valuable because they allow the health care provider to look at the child's growth and development, perform tests, and give shots (vaccines), if necessary. Don’t forget to make a copy of your child’s physical form that was provided from your child’s checkup to send to school. Keep the original on hand if needed to make more copies for sports or camps. If a student requires a prescribed medication (inhalers, ADHD meds) during the school day talk to your health care provider about this. The following must be in place at most schools:
- The medication in the original container (so ask your physician for an additional inhaler that can be kept at school and one that can be kept at home)
- Written consent of the parent/guardian for the school personnel to administer the medication
- Physician’s order or the current prescription label on the container.
Prepare for Medical Care Away from Home
For those college freshman make sure they know where to seek medical care at college and how to get a refill of a medication if needed while away at school. Provide them with their own copy of your insurance card if they need to seek medical care at college. Remember for a lot of them this might be their first visit to a medical provider without you present. Write down any important health information they may need to know if seeking medical care, such as allergies, current medications and health history. The Meningococcal vaccine is recommended for unvaccinated college freshmen living in dormitories.
Keep Germs at Bay
Preventing our children from illnesses once back in school, is important. Illnesses are caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi that are transmitted from one person to another. Droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person goes through the air and lands on a surface like a desk. Germs are easily spread when someone touches the object that has been contaminated with germs and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth. Keeping the hands away from the nose and mouth are the most helpful steps in prevention. School age children average five or six colds a year and adolescents approximately four colds a year. In addition children can have diarrhea illnesses with or without vomiting two to three times per year. The main cause of frequent colds or illness is your child being exposed to new viruses. Viruses increase in the wintertime, when we spend more time crowded together indoors.
Practice Good Hand Hygiene
Good hand-washing is the most effective way to prevent the spread of colds, the flu, and viruses. Washing your hands after using the bathroom, blowing your nose, handling trash, touching animals, and prior to touching food will help eliminate germs. Soap and water can be used for 20 seconds to their hands to wash away those germs. Using alcohol-based hand cleaners is also effective. So when purchasing those school supplies, pick up some alcohol-based hand cleanser for your child’s classroom to put next to the Kleenex box. For those college students pick up some Clorox wipes that they can wipe bathroom surfaces quickly.
Help Your Immune System
An unhealthy diet and not enough sleep can also affect the immune system and lower their resistance to illnesses. Normally our bodies can help fight off organisms before we get sick. However, staying up late, cramming for an exam or eating too many cheeseburgers and fries can wear our body down. Poor nutrition and not getting good rest can weaken the immune system. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables can prevent health problems. Drinking water helps prevent dehydration and helps flush out the body. Sleep is crucial to maintaining your child’s health. Sleep is the body’s time to repair and rejuvenate itself.
Continue to exercise during the school year as well. Exercise is good for us physically and mentally. Exercise helps with anxiety, stress and we sleep better too. Exercise gives us a higher energy level and can promote better concentration in school.
Stress is the body's normal response to troubling situations. Children can experience stress such as entering a new grade, a new school, or worrying about an upcoming test at school. So preparing your child ahead of time can help reduce stress. Tour that new school or meet your child’s teacher before school starts. Encourage your child to study each evening versus cramming the night before a test.
Stay Home if You’re Sick
We can take many actions that can help guard children’s bodies against these infections and build up their immune systems to make them strong and resistant to illness. However, if they do get sick remember to keep them home until they have been symptom-free for 24 hours. It is typical when a child runs a fever that the fever is elevated in the evening and lower in the morning. So if they had a fever (100.4 or higher) prior to going to bed that evening, they should probably stay home the next day from school. This is to keep from infecting others and spreading the illness further.
Written by Diane Williams, a pediatric nurse with the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Answer Line.