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Read King’s blog entries on raising kids at blog.childrensdayton.org.
Summer is winding down, and the school year is quickly approaching.
That means parents must take necessary health precautions to ensure their children are ready to head back to the classroom, according to experts.
We asked Dr. Melissa King, pediatrician and “Dr. Mom” blogger at Dayton (Ohio) Children’s Medical Center, to bring you the facts about everything from physicals to vaccinations for your child.
Q: Back-to-school time is quickly approaching. What do parents need to think about in regards to their children and health before kids head back to the classroom?
A: Have your kids received all required immunizations? Have you discussed with your child’s physician the vaccines that may not be required but are recommended by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics)?
Have you filled out any forms that the school has sent home, such as emergency contact and health information forms? Remember to complete all of the parent portions of the form.
Do the school nurse and teachers know about any medical conditions your child may have, particularly food allergies, asthma, diabetes and any other conditions that may need to be managed during the school day? Have you made arrangements with the school nurse to administer any medications your child might need?
Do the teachers know about any conditions that may affect how your child learns? For example, kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) should be seated in the front of the room, and a child with vision problems should sit near the board.
Q: When should parents start preparing their children for the school year, in regards to health concerns?
A: Starting in July or early August, you should contact your child’s doctor office to set up an appointment. It may take up to six or eight weeks to schedule a physical. Your insurance provider will only pay for one physical every 12 months. However, if you have concerns, problems or chronic health issues, then it is advisable to set up a visit before your child returns to school to discuss any limitations or restrictions.
Q: How often should children get physicals?
Q: Why are physicals important for children?
A: Physicals are important for children because it is often the only time the child might see a doctor all year. This is a time for the physician or designated health care provider to touch base with both the child and their parent regarding growth issues and any questions they might have. They are also important for students participating in sports, to possibly address any health concerns related to that specific activity. A yearly physical with the same doctor also allows a relationship to be formed, which makes the child feel more comfortable, and the doctor is able to identify medical concerns because they are familiar with the child’s medical history.”
Q: How do vaccinations work?
A: “Vaccinations work by administering a dead or weakened version of the virus to the child. The body is then able to produce antibodies to fight this weakened virus. If you are ever exposed to the real disease, then your body will use the antibodies. … This is called immunity.
Q: Why should children get vaccinations?
A: To protect children from potentially serious or deadly illnesses. We have been pretty successful in the U.S., drastically reducing the incidence of certain illnesses such as mumps, rubella, polio and diphtheria with vaccination campaigns. Unfortunately, there is still more work to be done, and even with the vaccine successes, the absence of an illness in the U.S. does not mean that it is no longer an issue. Even if the virus is no longer present in the U.S., it is still important to get vaccinated to prevent the illness because of travel. There are numerous other countries that still have a high number of cases of vaccine preventable illnesses, and if your child comes into contact with one other person carrying the illness, without a vaccine they could be quickly be affected. There are also children that your child may go to school with who are unable to receive vaccines because of an underlying illness. These children become very vulnerable to an outbreak of an illness. We provide those children with more protection if we are able to vaccinate as many children around them as possible.
Q: What are the potential side effects of vaccinations?
A: Possible side effects include pain, fever, swelling at the injection site, rashes, hives, difficulty breathing and extreme irritability. Some side effects such as encephalopathy (a disease, damage or malfunction of the brain) or Guillain-Barre [syndrome] (a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system) are more serious but luckily more rare as well. I realize that if your child has a severe reaction to a vaccine, then in your world, complications from vaccines are not rare. However, if your child is infected with a vaccine preventable illness and becomes extremely ill or has complications from that illness, then in your world, the risk of infection from an illness that could have been prevented is not rare either. Parents should contact their child’s pediatrician if their child experiences any of these after a vaccine.
Q: What are the common myths about vaccinations? Why are these myths wrong?
A: Myth 1: “Vaccines don’t work.” — This is false. Most occurrences of diseases like polio, diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps and now chicken pox have dramatically decreased since the introduction of the vaccines preventing each disease. The numbers of deaths related to influenza and whooping cough have declined as well; however, we still have too many of these cases as well.
Myth 2: “Vaccines aren’t necessary.” — Diseases that are prevented by vaccines still occur in the United States. If a child is not vaccinated against that disease, they are more likely to contract it. High immunization levels explain the dramatic decrease in outbreaks. If children are not properly vaccinated, the immunization level will decline, and outbreaks of the disease will increase. We have seen this occur with various illnesses worldwide when there is some trigger to vaccine avoidance.
Myth 3: “Vaccines aren’t safe.” — While some parents may worry about the side effects of vaccines, it’s important to note that pharmaceutical companies are under the strict supervision of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Vaccines are tested for years before they are approved, and all recommended vaccines are considered safe. Observation of vaccines and their safety in children also continues after the vaccine is in use. Anyone can report adverse events related to vaccines at the website vaers.hhs.gov.
Myth 4: “Infants are too young to be vaccinated.” — Many vaccine-preventable diseases strike children under the age of 2, so they are one of the most important groups to vaccinate.
Myth 5: “Vaccines weaken the immune system.” — Natural infections of certain viruses like chicken pox and measles without a doubt weaken the immune system; however, the viruses in vaccines are different from the ‘wild’ virus of the natural infection. Viruses in vaccines have been altered to the point where they will not weaken the immune system.
Myth 6: “Vaccines cause autism.” — This claim has recently been retracted, and there is no longer a link between the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and autism. Studies found that the only connection between these events is age. The MMR vaccine is usually given to children around 15 months old, and the early signs of autism generally begin to show at about 2 years of age.
Q: What else should parents know about preparing their children for school health wise?
A: Prepare your children for adequate sleep each night. Discourage TV, computer or telephone use after a specific time in the evening so that children are not distracted by these electronic devices when they should be sleeping. If your child has become a night owl, then you will need to make them wake up a couple of hours earlier each day until they are mimicking their school schedule. Discourage naps.
Encourage your children to eat three meals a day and include milk, fruits and vegetables into their daily intake. Discourage skipping meals at any point in time. Ask your children about their eating habits when they are not with you. Encourage them to drink water.”
Encourage regular, daily exercise for at least one hour every day for your children.