…but here are six pillars of good camp health.
Rotavirus, whooping cough, chicken pox and the H1N1 flu have all swept through summer camps at various times. Much more common are: Indigestion from eating too many s’mores, headaches from dehydration and various bumps and bruises from, well, being an active kid at camp. Big or small, illnesses and injuries are no fun to have at camp, especially when everyone else is out having fun.
That said, most camp health centers are well-equipped to handle routine maladies. Nurses and doctors also know when to refer more serious ailments to the local hospital. And rest assured: If your son or daughter experiences any serious affliction, the camp nurse or doctor will be giving you a call. Remember: No news is good news. You can, however, help your child—and the rest of the young people at camp—stay healthy. Here’s how:
(1) Complete the camp’s health form thoroughly. Whatever information you omit handicaps the camp health care staff. By being candid and complete, you put the staff in the best possible position to support your child. Fully disclose your son or daughter’s current diagnoses, allergies and medications, as well as any recent injuries and illnesses.
(2) Be sure your child’s immunizations are up-to-date. Choosing not to immunize your child or letting his or her immunizations lapse places an unfair health burden on the rest of the camp community. Parents who choose not to immunize are relying on “herd immunity”—the hope that their child will not get ill because everyone else is immunized. Naturally, if everyone adopts this attitude, no one is immune. Do your part and complete your child’s immunizations.
(3) Review elements of good personal hygiene with your child. This includes the basics, such as proper hand washing technique and the practice of coughing and sneezing in one’s elbow. It also includes proper bathing technique (using soap and warm water everywhere), daily flossing and keeping fingernails and toenails clean and neatly trimmed.
(4) Review healthy table manners with your child, including the use of serving utensils to dish out food; the use of napkins to wipe hands and mouth; and observing the rule of “you touch it, you take it.” You should also remind your son or daughter not to share towels or pillows with camp friends. One of the best ways to acquire germs is to put your face on a surface where someone else has wiped their own face.
(5) Review any daily or prophylactic medications with your child. Be sure he or she knows how to self-administer any rescue medications, including inhalers and EpiPens. Send your child to camp with two of every rescue medication, each clearly labeled with his or her name. (One stays in the health center; the other is for your child to keep with him.)
(6) Be sure your child is healthy in the days leading up to camp. Viruses and bacterial illnesses do not spring up spontaneously at camp. Bugs are brought to camp by children whose parents think their child is no longer contagious, who ignore signs of serious illness or who brush them off as pre-camp jitters. Rather than rolling the dice and risk infecting the entire camp community, keep your child home until a qualified medical professional has given him or her a clean bill of health.
Parents share the responsibility to keep their child—and all of the other children at camp—healthy. Your commitment to preparation makes an invaluable contribution to the overall health of the summer camp community. And, of course, healthy kids are happy kids. Following the six steps above ensures that your camp tuition dollars are spent on cool activities rather than convalescence.
Enjoy the summer!
Dr. Christopher Thurber