As if you didn’t have enough to deal with, marshaling kids, books, backpacks, schedules, and uniforms, back-to-school also comes with a regular host of health hazards. It’s quite normal for children to suffer from minor health issues within the first few weeks of returning to the classroom. Certainly, kids can contract these illnesses at any time, but the schoolroom in early fall can be a smorgasbord of new germs. Let’s take a look at dealing with some common annual concerns.
When kids return from summer vacation, many have travelled back from far-flung climes spending hours on planes and breathing recirculated air. They’ve more than likely picked up all sorts of airborne germs and viruses. Mix them all together in early September, shake or stir and you’ve got a powerful cocktail of sniffles and coughs.
Frequent and thorough hand washing is the best way to mitigate all communicable infections. Pack hand sanitizer for use when sinks are out of reach. You should also go over the proper techniques for safe sneezing and coughing with your kids. You can find those techniques here.
Flu viruses can mutate and change frequently, so it’s a good idea to check when the annual flu vaccine becomes available each winter and go get the latest jabs. Find our information on last year’s flu season here and here.
Conjunctivitis, or pinkeye, is another common back-to-school condition; in fact it’s one of the main triggers for school and day care absence (Patel 2007). There are infectious and non-infectious causes of pink-eye. The infections types, viral and bacterial conjunctivitis, are caused when germs are introduced to the eye. This leads to one or both eyes becoming inflamed and reddened, hence the name pinkeye. Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are quickly spread from kid-to-kid. As with all communicable diseases, increased thorough hand washing can help to halt the spread of contagious conjunctivitis. Warn your children to avoid touching their eyes also.
As with many viral infections, there is no treatment available for viral conjunctivitis but time. In the case of bacterial conjunctivitis topical antibiotics may be prescribed. Find previous articles dealing with pinkeye here and here.
Head lice are spread when little heads bend together in concentration and affection. Lice and their eggs, nits, are difficult to spot, and the first tell-tale sign is usually itching and scratching. However, in my experience, just reading about head lice is enough to trigger some temporary scalp tickles! So, if you do suspect head lice, the next step is to confirm your diagnosis with a magnifying glass and a fine tooth comb. Should you find them, make sure to let your school know so that other kids can be checked and treated.
Remember, lice might be lousy, but they’re no one’s fault. There’s a legacy of social stigma around head lice – they are the origin of the term cooties after all – but infestation can happen to any child, especially the freshly bathed. Although shame, fear or squeamishness may be understandable knee-jerk reactions, these are just the vestiges of parents’ negative childhood experiences. Lice prefer recently washed hair because they can grab onto a squeaky clean hair shaft that much more tightly. Outbreaks are an everyday fact of life for American school kids, and the CDC reports that between 6 and 12 million cases occur in school age kids annually. There’s a comprehensive post on the issue of head lice here.
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