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Keeping healthy??: Parents should be on lookout for health issues with start of school

By Tanya Berkebile
September 11, 2007;  Cadillac News

With school back in session, it is the time of year parents need to be on the lookout for health issues.

With the dry, warm summer, many children were able to spend much of their summer vacation outdoors. Now that the school year has begun, students are finding themselves spending most of the day indoors, confined to a few classrooms with a few breaks during the day.

With the student spending so much time indoors and with other children, it is the perfect breeding ground for health issues such as head lice, chicken pox or the flu. Although teachers and staff and local schools are on the lookout for these health concerns, parents also should be aware of what to look for.

"Every year when students go back to school, there is an outbreak of something," said Dr. James Wilson, Medical Director at District Health Dept. No. 10. "We encourage parents to teach children about how to be healthy early on. Set good examples for your children so they can prevent some of the common health issues."

Now that the new school year has begun, Shelly Laughlin is on health alert.

Because most schools don’t have a school nurse, it is up to the staff to be on the lookout for health issues.

Laughlin, the Marion Elementary School administrative assistant, keeps a constant eye out on students, looking for any signs of head itching, pink eye or excess coughing. She does that in addition to her day-to-day duties of working in a elementary school office.

"With the students coming back to school and spending so much time together indoors, we are constantly looking for signs of itching, sneezing or whatever," she said. "There are usually a few cases of head lice that we try to catch early on.

Once a staff member finds a child has the symptoms of a health issue, the child is separated from the other students and sent home.

Although the health of a child should be a No. 1 priority year-round, Dr. James Wilson, Medical Director at District Health Dept. No. 10, said the beginning of the school year can be especially important because it is prime time for spreading illnesses.

He said the best thing parents can do is teach their children how to be healthy.

“Healthy habits should start at home,” he said. “Parents should teach their children good hand-washing techniques, especially before eating. Not doing that is why 30 percent of flu incidents happen in children."

Head lice, pink eye, colds and the flu are some outbreaks the health department sees every year. Other health issues, although more uncommon, can be ring worm and chicken pox.

“With immunizations, there shouldn’t be that many chicken pox cases,” Wilson said. “There also is a new immunization recommendation for everyone this year for Hepatitis A. Other recommended immunizations are HPV and meningitis for teens and pertussis and tetanus.”

Because prevention is the best medicine, knowing how to prevent a child from getting head lice, the flu and other health issues is important.

The best way to prevent head lice is by not sharing brushes, bedding, hats, helmets or other clothing. It is also a good idea to check a child’s hair weekly for lice or nits, which are eggs.

“The best thing to do is talk to your child and encourage healthy habits,” Wilson said. “If they aren’t sharing hats or coming in contact with lice, they shouldn’t have a problem.”

Like lice, pink eye, flu, colds and ringworm also are caused by contact with either a person or an object the person has touched. That is why handwashing is so important, according to Wilson.

“If your child isn’t good about washing hands, have them use a hand sanitizer,” he said.

Besides illnesses, Wilson said parents should talk to their children about peer groups and healthy habits.

“Make sure children eat a healthy breakfast and get enough sleep — that helps them do better in school and be healthier at the same time,” he said. “Also, picking the right peer group is important. Kids can easily pick up unhealthy habits from their friends.”

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Student health tips

  • Check that your child’s vaccinations are up to date. Many schools and colleges won’t admit students who don’t have all their shots. Moreover, additional immunizations, such as hepatitis B, are now being required.
  • Write out an action plan for dealing with any chronic health conditions your child might have, such as asthma or food allergies. It’ll help the school nurse and your child’s teacher better address his or her needs. Include information about triggers, medication, and instructions for an emergency.
  • Put your kids on a sleep schedule. Your children might have grown accustomed to staying up late over the summer, but once school’s in session, they’ll need to settle into a sleep routine. When kids don’t get a proper night’s rest, their mood and performance can be affected. A 2006 study of 1,600 adolescents found that one in four high school students falls asleep in class at least once a week. Children ages 5 to 12 should sleep for 10 to 11 hours a night and adolescents 9 to 10 hours. To ease the transition, have the kids minimize or avoid stimulating activities, such as computer games, within one hour of bedtime. And make sure they go to bed and wake up about the same time every day.
  • Check for bugs. Now that school has started there are plenty of opportunities for your child to contract head lice. If you catch your child indulging in any tell-tale scratching, check her scalp. Lice can be tough to spot. The adults are usually a brownish color, and the nymphs clear to reddish brown. Many children are not allowed to go to school if they have lice, so you’ll need to act quickly if there is a problem.
  • Stock up on healthy options for breakfast and lunch. Make resolutions to help your child eat healthier. Instead of putting sweetened beverages in the lunchbox, choose water or low-fat milk. Remember that a snack should have less than 2 grams of fat, less than 10 grams of sugar and no trans fats per serving.

Source: Consumer Reports

tberkebile@cadillacnews.com | 775-NEWS (6397)