A Healthy Start to School
It seems like only yesterday that our children were wrapping up their last day of school and heading off to the pool, summer camp and family vacation. Yet, the new academic year is almost here, and it’s time to think about what’s needed to prepare them for a safe and healthy start in the classroom.
From obtaining required vaccinations to teaching youngsters basic hygiene habits and helping teenagers cope with acne, the responsibilities we face as parents are always challenging, no matter your child’s age.
Here are some tips to make your job easier:
Sports and School Physicals
To protect the health of our children and identify any problems that may interfere with learning, California law requires a health exam upon school entry. This health assessment must be completed 18 months before or 90 days after the start of first grade.
For middle and high schoolers, a sports physical is needed before student athletes can practice and play interscholastic sports. These exams assess your child’s physical condition and ability to participate in sports and determine any issues that would put them at risk.
College freshmen at many schools may also need a physical prior to admission.
These exams can be obtained from your pediatrician, family care provider or at retail clinics like MinuteClinic. No matter where you go, many physicals of this kind are not covered by health insurance, so inquire in advance about the visit cost.
Making sure your student is up to date on required vaccinations is an important item for your back-to-school checklist. Immunization schedules are standardized based on the CDC’s recommendations. However, if you recently moved to California, there may be additional local requirements to consider for your child. You can review these on the California Department of Public Health website.
Youngsters entering kindergarten through elementary grades must be current on doses of their early age vaccinations which include the following: DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis or whooping cough), Hepatitis B, IPV (Polio), MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) and Varicella (chicken pox). Students who have never attended a California school must also present written evidence of a Mantoux (PPD) Tuberculin skin test. (Private preschools may have their own requirements pertaining to the test and vaccines.)
For seventh-graders, a Tdap vaccination (also for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) is required prior to beginning the school year. This is a booster immunization indicated for adolescents and adults that follows the earlier DTap series received as a child. If your child received a DTaP/DTP immunization on or after the seventh birthday, he or she is exempt.
The meningitis vaccine (protecting against inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord) is recommended for all 11- to 18-year-olds (first dose around age 11-12 and a booster at 16-18 before the period of increased risk). Adolescents who receive their first dose at or after age 16 years do not need a booster dose. First-year college students living in residence halls are susceptible and should be vaccinated.
TB testing for college entrance in California is based on identifying the student's risk factors including travel or residence in a foreign country, close contact to someone with infectious TB and immunosuppression.
Remember to schedule appointments for exams and immunizations in advance because primary care providers often take summer vacations. Retail clinics such as MinuteClinic, located in select East Bay and Peninsula CVS Pharmacy stores, are a good option for school physicals and vaccinations. Always remember to bring your child’s vaccination record.
Shortly after school begins, we see a steady stream of students with contagious conditions such as strep throat and conjunctivitis (pink eye). That’s why I always encourage parents to stress basic hygiene and germ prevention, especially with the young ones heading off to preschool and kindergarten for the first time.
Teach them to wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds after using the restroom and before they eat, when their hands will be touching their food and mouth.
Show them how to sneeze into their sleeve – not their hands – or to cover their nose and mouth with a tissue and throw it away. Make sure they know not to share drinks or water bottles – also a good reminder for older students, particularly if they play team sports.
Lastly, caution them about sharing hats and towels, both common ways for lice to spread. Locker room towels can also be a breeding ground for a variety of bacteria including MRSA (a.k.a. the super bug), which is responsible for several difficult-to-treat infections.
Acne is an emotional issue for many adolescents and may affect their self-esteem as they begin classes. Changes in hormones, stress and certain medications and cosmetics can all be triggers.
Both over-the-counter products and prescription medications may be needed to achieve clearer skin. In addition, there are some steps teens can take to help remove excess oil and old skin cells, and to promote new skin growth.
First, consider a shorter hairstyle. Long hair can cause skin to be oiler, especially if it hangs in your child’s face, goes unwashed or if they sweat a lot. Use gentle hair products and avoid gels and oils that can get in their face and clog their pores.
Next, be mindful of areas where tight-fitting items rub the skin and cause irritation (helmets for sports, headbands, bra straps and high-collared shirts and sweaters).
Daily face washing is important. But keep it gentle. Heavy scrubbing, harsh soaps and hot water can make acne worse. Avoid makeup whenever possible and always make sure it’s removed at the end of the day.
Here’s one final tip for students of any age: Approach the journey of back to school – starting on day one and every day after – with encouragement, motivation and plenty of hugs! A positive attitude always contributes to good health.
Ashley Slonim lives in Walnut Creek and is a Family Nurse Practitioner with MinuteClinic at CVS Pharmacy East Bay locations in Danville, San Ramon and Walnut Creek.