Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

August 3, 2012

Check: Student health

TAHLEQUAH — Much to the chagrin of the average child, the summer months are drawing to a close, and the first day of school is just days away.

For parents, that means preparations in the form of clothing and supplies, and provisions may also include a few health-related appointments.

The Cherokee County Health Department is encouraging parents to check immunization records to ensure their children are up to date.

“It’s back-to-school time, and for many families, that means immunizations,” said Keri Ratliff, coordinating nurse at CCHD. “Oklahoma law mandates that children must be up to date on their required immunizations to begin the new school year. These immunizations protect against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis [whooping cough], measles, mumps, rubella, polio, varicella [chickenpox], hepatitis B and hepatitis A.”

Ratliff said parents of adolescents should be aware that a booster dose of Tdap – tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough vaccine – is now required for all students entering grades 7-8.

Teenagers headed off to college may be required to have the meningococcal vaccine, and they can get the first dose of it with their Tdap booster at 11 to 12 years of age. The MCV4 is required in Oklahoma for first-time college students who plan to live in campus dormitories or other on-campus housing facilities.

Most private health insurance plans cover the cost of vaccines. Parents are encouraged to check with their health care providers or insurance carriers to find out which vaccines and vaccine services are covered.

“Immunizations are essential for the health of our children, because without them, we would experience disease outbreaks in our schools and communities every year,” said Ratliff. “Vaccines are a safe and effective way to help protect children, families, and our communities from diseases that routinely caused death and disability in the past.”

Parents of athletes have additional needs to address. Whether a child is participating in a fall sport or a spring sport, it is typically best – and often required – that a physical examination be done during the summer, during which a doctor will investigate the body for signs of injury or disease. Passed physicals are valid for one calendar year.

NEOHealth, 124 E. Main St., Hulbert, offered physicals to all area athletes at clinics  July 19 and 26. However, prospective athletes who still need physicals may make an appointment.

Children of all ages – and particularly those of a younger age – are prone to many contagious ailments. Among the more prevalent are head lice: blood-sucking insects that can live in the hair, eyebrows, and even eyelashes. They are about the size of a sesame seed, and are found only on humans – not on dogs, cats or other pets.

Lice are spread through direct or indirect contact with infested objects or people. When combs or brushes are shared, lice can be transported from one head to another. This is also true of the sharing of hats and other personal items, or clothing worn on the head. As long as lice are living, they can be moved from person to person.

Parents should stress to their children the importance of not sharing clothing, hats, brushes or combs. Coats should be hung from hangers or coat hooks, rather than being tossed in a pile.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health Acute Disease Service recommends that parents make head checks a part of routine hygiene, checking their children’s head once a week. The earlier lice are found, the easier they are to treat.

To treat lice, machine-wash all bed linens and clothing that have been in contact with the infested scalp within 72 hours on the hot cycle (130 degrees). Also, wash soft toys and stuffed animals that accompany the child to bed. Medicated shampoo, such as Rid and Lice Shield, is available over the counter.

As the to-do list grows, parents often neglect an important preparatory step: the back-to-school eye exam.

According to Dr. James Mahaney, an estimated 17-25 percent of school aged children have vision problems – an astounding figure, considering the fact that 80 percent of what children learn is through vision. Comprehensive eye exams are necessary to detect issues that a light screening can miss.

Comprehensive eye exams include tests to determine muscle function, coordination, nearsightedness and farsightedness, as well as astigmatism.

“I’d put that at the top of the list for people to do for their children,” said Dr. Tom Baker, another Tahlequah optometrist. “A child who is getting ready to go into kindergarten should have an exam. That’s a good time to start. Any child whose parents wear glasses should be checked, as well. Headaches are an indication of a vision problem. If a child has a short attention span, that’s another good reason to have an exam. If a child is not reading up to grade-level, that is also a good reason for an exam.”

Parents who do not wish to make unnecessary appointments should simply watch  for warning signs that their child’s eye sight is not optimal.

Additional signs include rubbing of the eyes, omission of small words while reading, unfulfilled potential in school, struggling to complete homework, squinting and behavioral problems.

With several area optometrists to choose from, parents should have no problem finding a resource. Though a return to the classroom naturally places a considerable emphasis on children, pre-emptive measures of a parent can ultimately make or break a school year.

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