Back-to-school health tips for Michigan parents

Be on the lookout for these common illnesses for school-age children

By Romika Glenn
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Shortly after school begins and students are back in close contact, we begin to see a steady stream of children and teenagers showing up at our MinuteClinic locations with contagious conditions and common illnesses.

That’s why I always encourage parents to stress basic hygiene and germ prevention this time of year; especially with the young ones heading off to pre-school and kindergarten for the first time.

Prevention and Hygiene Tips

  • Teach your youngsters to wash their hands with soap and water often; especially after using the restroom and before they eat when their hands will be touching their food and mouth. Twenty seconds of hand washing is appropriate and singing the Happy Birthday song twice is a good measure of appropriate length. If soap, and ideally warm water, are not available, then hand sanitizer is a good second choice.
  • Learning how to sneeze properly is also key. Have them sneeze into their sleeve – not their hands – or cover their nose and mouth with a tissue and throw it away.
  • Make sure they know not to share drinks in the cafeteria or water bottles on the playground – also a good reminder for older students, particularly if they play on sports teams. Oral contact is one of the fastest ways for germs to spread.
  • Also caution them about sharing hats, brushes and hair clips, all common ways for lice to spread. Avoid sharing locker room towels which can also be breeding grounds for a variety of bacteria including MRSA (a.k.a. the super bug) which is responsible for several difficult-to-treat infections that affect various parts of the body.
  • Lastly, it’s not too early to start thinking about flu prevention. We have seen cases of the flu in the Detroit area as early as October. Flu shots are available now from your pediatrician or primary care provider. We also offer them at all MinuteClinic and CVS Pharmacy locations in the Detroit metro area.

Common Illnesses

Now that we have prevention and hygiene tips covered, it’s time for you to be on the lookout. By mid-September, there are three illnesses that crop up quickly among students.

Upper respiratory conditions

This is typically the common cold or a more severe sinus infection. Often, this can be treated with over the counter medications but if it goes on more than a week, your child should be seen by a medical professional and a prescription medication may be needed.  For students who have asthma, it’s more important to seek care as there can be added complications. Symptoms include a stuffy nose, scratchy throat, yellow vs. clear mucus and a mild head ache.

Strep Throat

Strep is marked by a fever over 101 degrees that is accompanied by a severe sore throat and often white or yellow spots on the tonsils. If your child is displaying these symptoms, have them seen by a medical professional as soon as possible. A strep test will likely be administered and if it’s positive, antibiotics will be needed to clear the condition so they can return to school without spreading the bacterial infection.

Conjunctivitis (Pink eye)

Conjunctivitis is caused by allergens, viruses and bacteria. The viral and bacterial forms of conjunctivitis are both highly contagious. Symptoms include red, itchy, sore eyes, possibly with discharge. Allergic conjunctivitis is typically treated with OTC products; however, severe cases may require prescription medications.  Viral conjunctivitis is not typically treated with medications; while bacterial conjunctivitis does require an antibiotic.  See a medical professional so your child can be diagnosed, receive the proper care and get back to the classroom as soon as possible.

Acne

While it is not a contagious condition spread by germs, acne is an emotional issue for many adolescents and may affect their self-esteem as they begin classes in the fall. Changes in hormones, stress, and certain medications and cosmetics can all be triggers.

A combination of over-the-counter products and prescription medications may be needed to achieve clearer skin. In addition, there are some steps they can take to help remove excess oil and old skin cells, and promote new skin growth.

Here are some prevention and treatment tips to consider

  • First, daily face washing is important. But keep it gentle. Use oil-free cleanser that will remove dirt, makeup, and excess oil, but will not dry out your skin.  Heavy scrubbing, harsh soaps and hot water can cause acne to get worse. Look for products that do not have alcohol or fragrance. 
  • If you wear make-up, choose a product that has “non-acnegenic” or “non-comedogenic” on the label. Always make sure you remove your make-up at the end of the day.
  • For day, use a light moisturizer that contains sunscreen and provides UVA and UVB skin protection. This helps prevent further damage to skin.  For night, use an oil-free moisturizer that helps restore hydration lost with treatment.
  • Lastly, be mindful of areas where tight-fitting items rub the skin and cause irritation. This includes helmets for sports, headbands, bra straps and high-collared shirts and sweaters.

Here’s one final tip for students of any age:

Give them a hug and some encouragement on Day One and every day after. A positive attitude always contributes to good health!


Romika Glenn is a mother of one and family nurse practitioner who lives in the metro Detroit area and works at MinuteClinic inside the CVS Pharmacy store in Wyandotte, one of 17 MinuteClinic locations in the Detroit metro area.

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