Back to School?!

9 08 2010

The kids are staggering around, moaning about school’s approach while we parents giggle in our sleep.  We have to put in some work to get our little sweetums of all ages launched into the new school year, but the payoff is worth it.  The kids – out of the house!

Vaccines.  Have to get pre-schoolers, collegians and everyone in-between up-to-date on those immunizations.  Ice cream afterward, no matter the age.

Flu.  Ok, this seems like it should be with the vaccines above, but most of us focus on the immunizations we need to get done before the kids go back to school, and this one usually isn’t available in clinics until September/October.  Put it on the calendar, because it’s easy to forget.  Check with your provider about each member of your family getting vaccinated against influenza.  It’s important.

Cover coughs.  With kids crammed into classrooms and adults back at the office after summer holiday, diseases have a chance to spread quickly.  Show the kids how to cough (or sneeze) into their elbows, or into tissues.  This helps stop the germs from floating around and being inhaled by others, or from landing on surfaces that others then touch, picking up the germs on their hands.

Wash hands.  Washing our hands throughout the day, and always after using the bathroom and before we eat, is an all-around good habit.  It’s one of the most effective ways to prevent infections.  Show the kids how to wash their hands.  We didn’t know there was a particular way that worked best until we had a nurse come in and show us prior to making this little video a few years ago.

Dating.  There will be a lot more interaction between teens after school starts.  Even though they know about STDs, it doesn’t hurt for them to hear us talk about the ways diseases spread.  It’s surprising how parents’ willingness to talk, and talk often, can impact a teen’s choices.  Also, thanks to the recent vampire craze, we have to explain that biting your date’s neck can spread all sorts of diseases.

Any parents out there want to chime in on what they do or say to keep their kids healthy?  We’d love to hear!





Meningitis: A College Memory You Don’t Want

21 04 2010

Going away to school is a lifechanging experience. For many students, four years disappear into a haze of studying, working, and partying with their classmates. It’s a chaotic time where everything is shared: space, feelings, clothes, cars, and germs.

When a meningitis outbreak shows up in the news, it’s a good bet that it showed up at a school. Any shared spaces like schools, dorms, or barracks where crowds of young adults converge are favorite territories for bacteria and viruses to spread.

Meningitis, a serious but rare infection, is an inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It affects about 1,500 Americans each year.

Meningitis is commonly mistaken for the flu in its early stages, and therefore left untreated. When this happens, it can do a lot of damage within hours, sometimes causing confusion, seizures, and brain damage. Survivors are often left with amputated limbs—permanent reminders of their experience.

So what does meningitis act like and why are colleges a prime environment for it?

Most meningitis patients complain of excruciating headaches, unyielding fevers, nausea, and vomiting. Sound like just a bad case of the flu? More telling are other symptoms, which include stiffness and pain in the neck (due to the swelling around the spinal cord and brain), sensitivity to light, numbness or loss of sensation in limbs, rashes, mental confusion, and convulsions and seizures.

Most at risk are college students. Busy, exhausted, and stressed students often have lowered immune systems. A wide variety of lifestyles and health choices create a melting pot of germs, especially when bathrooms and eating areas are shared. Meningitis is spread through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluid: a shared cigarette or drink, a kiss, a cough. It’s possible to carry a germ that causes meningitis and never be sick, while unknowingly passing it on to someone else. There are lots of ways to spread it.

Many such infections could be prevented with vaccination. Some schools are now requiring proof of vaccination; others only provide information about meningitis. Before heading off to college, make sure you’re protected and know what the warning signs are. Parents, if you’re reading this, make sure your son or daughter is protected before they leave you.  It could be the most important going-away gift you give your child.

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