Works of art aren’t the only things your kids will bring home when school starts this month. You should be prepared for sniffles, sneezes and other infectious symptoms. After all, classrooms are perfect spaces for bacteria and viruses to spread between students.
Healthy Habits that Keep Kids Safe
Thanks to COVID-19 safety measures, such as masking, social distancing, temperature checks, and frequent handwashing, many schools were able to reduce the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and other viruses among school-age children last year.
And moving into 2021, we’ve done even more to prepare our children. In addition to continuing proven safety measures, most adolescents 12 years and older are eligible for the Pfizer vaccination, adding an added level of protection.
But even so, kids will likely still be exposed to the COVID virus as well as other illnesses, including colds, pink eye, influenza, stomach viruses and more. So, what more can you do? Here are a few ideas:
- Masking. All kids over the age of 2 should wear a mask in school this year. This is very effective at preventing the spread of COVID in crowded indoor spaces, and likely also helps decrease the spread of influenza and some other respiratory viruses.
- Encourage good hygiene. Good handwashing is one of the best ways to keep your kids healthy at home and at school. They should wash for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, or they can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if there is no visible dirt. Also, make sure your child knows to always cough or sneeze into an elbow to prevent spreading germs to others.
- Maintain a good sleep schedule. Children and adolescents who don’t get enough sleep are at higher risk for many health issues, including an immune system that doesn’t function at its optimal level. Ensuring they get the right amount and quality of sleep will help their bodies to operate at its best. Added bonus: it will also help their focus and overall academic performance.
- Make sure your child is up to date on vaccines. The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases recommends all children and adolescents follow the vaccination schedule set by the CDC to help prevent serious illnesses, such as influenza (flu), meningococcal disease, varicella (chickenpox) and whooping cough (pertussis). Additionally, the most recent children and adolescents vaccination schedule includes the COVID-19 vaccine for everyone age 12 and older.
- Stay hydrated. Hydration is important. Since bacteria and viruses can be found on drinking fountains, teach your child to let the water run before drinking and to avoid touching the fountain with their mouth. You can also send them to school with a water bottle in their backpack (as long as they understand it shouldn’t be shared).
Here in Atlanta, ragweed pollen blooms in August and is at its peak in September. In addition to ragweed, tree pollens can also be blamed for allergies. If your child suffers from allergies, talk to their pediatrician about whether allergy medication can help.
Allergy symptoms include:
- Itchy eyes, nose, and scratchy throat
Learn Where to Go When It’s Not Life-Threatening
If your child comes down with a back-to-school infection, start by seeing your pediatrician, family doctor or primary care physician (PCP). These medical professionals are already familiar with your child’s health history. If you can’t get an appointment at a time that works for you or your doctor’s schedule is booked up, don’t stress. You have options:
- MinuteClinics are a good alternative if you need to see a health care provider sooner than you can see your PCP, or if you need care outside of your PCP’s normal office hours. MinuteClinics can treat many minor illnesses and injuries, and prescribe medications.
- Urgent care centers can also treat serious, but not life-threatening, illnesses or injuries — and they are open at times your PCP is not.
Know Where (and When) to Get Emergency Care
Unfortunately, playground accidents and back-to-school injuries can happen. In addition to bumps and bruises, your child might show signs of an urgent condition. Go to the nearest Emergency Room if your child experiences:
- Blood in the mouth when coughing or vomiting
- Broken bones
- Chest or upper abdominal pain
- Confusion or other changes in mental status
- Difficulty breathing
- Fainting, dizziness, weakness, or trouble moving
- Head or neck injury
- Sudden changes in vision
- Sudden or severe pain
- Severe or persistent diarrhea or vomiting
- Suicidal or homicidal feelings
- Uncontrollable bleeding
If you take your child to the ER, have key information ready for the nurse or doctor. Keep track of when symptoms started, how they progressed and how long they’ve lasted. It’s also helpful to bring a list of any medications your child has taken.
At Emory Healthcare, we’re here to help you find the care you need when you need it. With more than 2,800 doctors and 300 locations, including 11 hospitals, as well as primary care offices, urgent cares and MinuteClinics, we’re delivering specialized care across the region. Find a doctor near you to help you get and stay healthy.
If you’re not sure if a trip to the ER is needed, call your family doctor or the Emory HealthConnection, where registered nurses can help you find a location or specialist that’s right for you. Call 404-778-7777 from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST (M-F).