Back to School & Avoiding Illness
It’s that time of year again! The backpacks are packed full with school supplies a plenty. The new clothes and shoes nicely arranged in the closet. The parents are busy making the proper arrangements, and the children’s minds are filled with wonder about what the new school year has in store. And lurking around every corner, just waiting for an unsuspecting host - is a germ, a virus, or bacteria – the ones we dread most!
During all of the hustle and bustle of heading back to school, take time out to review these important tips to keep your child well and free from illness this school year. One of the most important things you can do is to make sure their vaccinations are up-to-date before school starts, and to make sure they get a Flu vaccine every year. If you have concerns about your child receiving vaccines, be sure to discuss them with your child’s Pediatrician.
In order to prevent infection, it is important to understand what common childhood infections are, and how they are transmitted. The term "germs" refers to the microscopic bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa that can cause illness or disease. Germs are found everywhere in our environment, and while some are helpful, others can be very harmful. Germs are spread by direct contact with an infected person or surface, through air particles, or by contaminated food or water.
Here are a few common childhood illnesses to be particularly mindful of –
- Pinkeye (conjunctivitis). This very contagious infection of the lining of the eyelids can result in reddened, crusty and itchy eyes. The condition can be prevented by washing hands thoroughly and often with soap and warm water. Children should also avoid touching their eyes as well as sharing eye drops, makeup, eye glasses/ sun glasses, pillowcases, washcloths and towels.
- Strep throat. This bacterial infection causes swelling and extreme soreness in the back of the throat. This contagious illness spreads through close contact and by unwashed hands, as well as sneezing or coughing. The infection can be prevented by not sharing utensils, food, drinks, napkins or towels with a child who is already sick. Children should also be taught to sneeze or cough into their shirtsleeve, not their hands.
- RSV- Respiratory Syncytial Virus. A viral infection of the lungs and breathing passages that is a major cause of respiratory illness in young children. In adults, it may only produce a common cold, such as a stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, mild headache, cough, fever, and a general feeling of being ill. But in premature babies and kids with diseases that affect the lungs, heart, or immune system, RSV infections can lead to other more serious illnesses. RSV is highly contagious and can be spread through droplets containing the virus when someone coughs or sneezes. It also can live on surfaces (such as countertops or doorknobs) and on hands and clothing, so it can be easily spread when a person touches something contaminated. RSV can spread rapidly through schools and childcare centers. Babies often get it when older kids carry the virus home from school and pass it to them. Almost all kids are infected with RSV at least once by the time they're 2 years old. RSV infections often occur from late fall through early spring. Respiratory illness caused by RSV — such as bronchiolitis or pneumonia — usually lasts about a week, but some cases may last several weeks.
· Gastroenteritis (Rotovirus, Norovirus). Infection with these viruses affects the stomach and intestines and causes an illness called gastroenteritis. Illness often begins suddenly with stomach cramping, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Some also experience low grade fever, chills, headache, & generalized fatigue. Infections are usually not serious, and most recover within 1 or 2 days with no long-term health effects. But, more severe illness is possible, particularly in young children and those with other health conditions, and can lead to hospitalization and even death. General symptoms of dehydration include a decrease in urination, a dry mouth, and feeling dizzy when standing up. A dehydrated child may also cry with few or no tears and be unusually sleepy or fussy. Severe dehydration can be serious. The best way to prevent dehydration is to drink plenty of liquids. The most helpful fluids for this purpose are oral rehydration fluids such as Pedialyte.
- Head lice. Though not an illness, this condition can be quite problematic. Lice are parasitic insects that infest the head, eyebrows and eyelashes, are common among children. Anyone can get lice and they are not associated with poor hygiene. Discourage children from sharing combs, brushes, hats and helmets to prevent infestation.
· Influenza. (the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications. People with flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. The flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Someone might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year. The 2011 seasonal flu vaccine protects against three flu viruses, including the novel H1N1 (Swine) flu virus that caused illnesses around the world last year. Unlike before, there’s no need to get two vaccines this season.
- Walking pneumonia. This illness is the leading type of pneumonia in school-age kids and teens. It can be spread through direct contact with an infected person or through coughs or sneezes containing bacteria. Although it can be treated effectively with antibiotics, children can prevent getting the illness by washing their hands well and often.
Here are some things you can do and teach your child to do to prevent the spread of illness:
ü Wash your hands frequently and properly. This is the number one thing that will cut down on the spread of germs. Proper hand washing includes using soap and warm water and rubbing your hands together, lathering and scrubbing all surfaces for 20 seconds. Have your child sing their “ABCs” or “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” to remember how long to wash. Rinse hands well and dry on a paper towel or with an air dryer. Use a paper towel to turn off the faucet to avoid recontamination. When soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean hands. For hand sanitizers to be effective, rub the product all over hands and fingers and under fingernails. Hand sanitizers are good at killing germs if hands are not visibly dirty. If they are dirty, use the sanitizer and wash with soap and water as soon as possible. Wash your hands after using the bathroom, blowing or wiping your nose, coughing, sneezing or being around someone who is sick. Also wash them before eating or handling any food, and after touching an animal or touching garbage.
ü Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow, not your hands. This will help you minimize the chances that you will pass your germs on when touching objects around the house. Throw your dirty tissues away immediately after using them. Germs can live in tissues for hours and leaving dirty tissues around will just make it easier for the germs to spread to other people. Not to mention, that they could reinfect you every time you use or touch it.
ü Help Your Immune System – Diet, Rest, Water, Exercise, & Stress. An unhealthy diet and not enough sleep can affect the immune system and lower your 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. Sleep is crucial to maintaining your child’s health. Sleep is the body’s time to repair and rejuvenate itself. Drinking water helps prevent dehydration and helps flush out the body. 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. Encourage your child to study each evening versus cramming the night before a test.
ü Teaching children good health habits - Make sure your children follow healthy habits. Children are a major source of illness because they are exposed to a lot when they are around other children. They will often bring an illness home from school or daycare then spread it to other family members. Instilling in children the importance of washing their hands often will help cut down on their illnesses, as well as implementing the tips above.
So, now that you are armed with all of this “germ” knowledge – go out there and have a fun, prosperous, and HEALTHY school year!
Written by: Sherrie Mullikin, RN
Assistant Director of Nursing