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Health Tips

Chickenpox

From time to time one of our students gets chickenpox (varicella).

Although chickenpox is not usually a serious illness, it often causes children to miss days at school while they have a rash and parents to miss work while they stay home to take care of their children. In some children, chickenpox may cause more serious illnesses.

Chickenpox is infectious and spreads from person to person by direct contact or through the air from an infected person’s coughing or sneezing. A person with chickenpox is contagious from one to two days before the rash appears and is contagious until all the blisters have formed scabs. It takes from 10 to 21 days after contact with an infected person for someone to develop chickenpox. If your child gets chickenpox, keep him home from school and day care until all the rash or blisters form scabs or crust over.

Remember, too, that all children who attend school in South Carolina are required to receive a series of immunizations before they can begin school. This includes a vaccination against varicella just after a child’s first birthday or proof from the child’s doctor that a child has already had chickenpox. The vaccine is effective but may not provide complete protection against chickenpox. Because of this, the Department of Health and Environmental Control now recommends a second dose of the varicella vaccine in order to provide your child with greater protection. You might want to contact your child’s regular health care provider about the second dose.

If your child does not have a regular health care provider, the Lexington County Health Department also provides the vaccine. You will need to call ahead of time to schedule an appointment at 803-785-6550.

DHEC also recommends two doses of the varicella vaccine for children and adults who have not had chickenpox.

Adults can develop more serious illnesses from chickenpox than younger children, especially pregnant women without any history of chickenpox disease or vaccine, or people with immunocompromising conditions such as certain types of cancer, HIV or who are taking steroid medications.

Measles

Due to the recent national measles outbreak the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control provided districts across the state with information about measles.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that the majority of measles cases seen this school year (2014–2015) were among people who had not been vaccinated. South Carolina has had no reported cases of measles since 1999.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. It spreads through the air through coughing and sneezing. It starts with a fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes, and sore throat and is followed by a rash that spreads all over the body.”

After an infected person leaves a location, the measles virus remains alive for up to two hours on surfaces and in the air.

And, three out of 10 people who get measles develop one or more complications including pneumonia, ear infections, or diarrhea.

The current outbreak shows the importance of getting vaccinated with the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine, recommended for all infants at 12 months of age. In fact, the MMR is required for both day care and school in South Carolina.

Rest assured that DHEC continues to monitor the national outbreak.

You can visit www.scdhec.gov/measles to get updates on the national investigation and to learn more about what is being done in South Carolina to stay ahead of the situation.

Flu

When we begin to see flu and flu-like illnesses in our schools, we work with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to monitor flu conditions and to make decisions about the best ways to protect our students and staff.

DHEC and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also tell us that it is a good idea to get a flu vaccine.

We are fortunate to have registered nurses in our schools. Those nurses monitor our students and watch for flu-like symptoms (temperature of 100 degrees or more, headache, muscle aches, sweating, sore throat, cough, extreme fatigue).

With the help of our teachers, they also regularly emphasize health, hygiene and safety by talking about the importance of frequent hand washing, good hand-washing habits and good cough technique in order to reduce the spread of any disease.

We also make sure students have easy access to tissues, running water and soap, or alcohol-based hand cleaners.

You can help, too. If your child complains about not feeling well, please check your child’s temperature before sending him/her to school. If your child has a fever of 100 degrees or more before you give him/her Tylenol, Advil, Motrin or some other appropriate fever reducing medication, keep your child at home. Adults can pass the flu virus to others up to one day before and three to seven days after symptoms start. Children can pass the virus for longer than seven days after their symptoms begin.

Flu spreads when a person who has the flu coughs, sneezes or talks — sending the virus into the air. Other people then inhale the virus, which enters the nose, throat or lungs of a person and begins to multiply, causing symptoms of influenza. Less often, flu spreads when a person touches a surface that has flu viruses on it — a door handle, for instance — and then touches his or her nose or mouth. Once an individual is exposed to the virus, it takes one to four days (on average two days) for that individual to develop symptoms.

Once the fever breaks (this usually takes from three to five days) and your child no longer has a fever or sign of a fever without the help of Tylenol or another product, please keep your child home for another full 24 hours — even if your child is using an antiviral medicine.

Finally, we know how important your children are to you. Please make sure that your school has your current emergency telephone numbers. Obviously, you want to know when your child is sick so that you can pick your child up from school, and we know that you don’t want your sick child spending hours in the health room because we can’t reach you.

Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

All children who attend school in South Carolina are required to receive a series of immunizations before they can begin school, including vaccinations against whooping cough, also called pertussis (which is the “P” in DTP, DTP-Hib or DTaP vaccines). As children get older, however, the protection against whooping cough provided by the vaccines begins to decrease.

For that reason, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control requires seventh-graders to get a Tdap vaccine, a booster vaccine that also contains a pertussis (whooping cough) component to boost immunity to whooping cough, before school starts. The booster not only protects your child from whooping cough but also protects your child from tetanus and diphtheria.

You should know that pertussis is a contagious disease that affects the nose, throat, windpipe and lungs. It is spread through the air when infected people cough or sneeze. In adolescents and adults, pertussis often presents as an illness with a long lasting cough. Individuals usually have symptoms in two stages:

  1. The first stage begins like a cold with a runny nose, sneezing and a cough. The cough may slowly get worse after a week or two.
  2. The second stage, which lasts from four to six weeks, is marked by uncontrolled coughing spells and a whooping noise (in young children) when the person inhales. During severe coughing spells, a person may gag or vomit and have trouble breathing. Babies may become blue in the face from lack of air. Between spells, however, the person often appears to be well.

If your healthcare provider says that your child has whooping cough, ask your healthcare provider for a note stating that and give that note to the school, childcare, etc. DHEC also makes the following recommendations:

  • People with pertussis should not attend school or childcare until they have completed five days of antibiotics.
  • Children with pertussis, who are out of school or childcare, should stay at home and not have visitors until they have completed five full days of antibiotics.
  • This also means that the child should avoid all public activities such as sports, playgroups, musical events, religious activities, shopping, etc.
  • Be sure that your child covers his/her mouth and nose when coughing, throws away any tissues used carefully and washes his/her hands often.
  • If your child is diagnosed with whooping cough, your healthcare provider may also offer antibiotics to other people living in the house that may prevent other family members from becoming sick with this disease.

Ask your healthcare provider if your family members are up-to-date on vaccines that help prevent pertussis.

Ebola

At a time when Ebola is all over the news and misinformation often get interpreted and passed on as truth, we wanted to make sure you had the facts.

While there are absolutely no confirmed or even suspected cases of the Ebola virus in South Carolina, we know that many of you have questions or may be wondering about our school district’s infectious disease protocols.

We are fortunate to have a lead nurse at the district level and a registered nurse in each of our schools. Our school nurses monitor students and work with our teachers to regularly emphasize health, hygiene and safety to our students.

At the elementary schools, in particular, they talk about the importance of frequent hand washing, good hand-washing habits and good cough technique in order to reduce the spread of any disease. We also make sure they have easy access to tissues, running water and soap, or alcohol-based hand cleaners.

Our nurses’ offices are equipped with gloves, masks and the supplies needed to monitor students’ temperatures and document symptoms.

Each school keeps emergency contact information for each child, and students who run fevers are isolated from the other students and adults to the extent possible until they can be picked up by their parents or guardians.

The lead nurse regularly monitors student attendance and absences while maintaining patient confidentiality at all times.

The district is in regular contact with and works closely with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about everything from lice to serious contagious diseases.

Officials have encouraged public school districts to continue to enforce existing protocols that are used in handling flu epidemics.

One of the most important things that parents can do to help prevent the spread of any infectious disease is to remind your child to wash his hands often and thoroughly or to clean them with alcohol-based hand cleaner. Here are some hand washing dos and don’ts.

Tell him to cover his cough with a tissue, sleeve or elbow and not his hand; to not touch his face, eyes or mouth; and to not share his food, drink or eating utensils with others.

Here are some other helpful links.

If your travel takes you to any of the these West African countries (Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, Mali) that the CDC says are areas of concern, please check in with your school nurse.

Bed Bugs

Occasionally, the district sees things like bed bugs in its student population. When we do, we have a protocol that we follow carefully. Part of that protocol involves bagging students’ book bags when we see a bedbug anywhere in a classroom.

You should know, however, that infestations in schools are not common, as bed bugs do not remain attached to students like lice. Occasionally, they hitch a ride to school on clothes, backpacks or other items.

You may have heard or read about bed bugs in the news. They are small, flat, reddish-brown, wingless insects about the size of Lincoln’s head on a penny.

Personal cleanliness and hygiene have nothing to do with bed bugs.

Infestations usually occur around or near areas people sleep such as apartments, hotels, cruise ships and dorm rooms. Bed bugs are not known to spread disease, but they can be annoying because they can cause itching and loss of sleep since they feed on people and animals while they sleep. They hide during the day in the seams of mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards, dresser tables, sofas, etc.

Infestations in schools are not common, as bed bugs do not remain attached to students like lice. However, occasionally, a bed bug hitches a ride to school on clothes, book bags or other items. For that reason, we recommend that parents periodically check their child’s belongings, especially book bags, tote bags and clothing. We also recommend that parents encourage their child to keep those items away from beds and other upholstered furniture.

LICE

Each year we see cases of head lice (pediculosis) among our students, and this year is no exception. We hope the following information about lice from the Centers for Disease Control, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and our school nurses helps you.

What do lice or their nits look like?

  • Head lice are very small (3mm) brown, grey or black bugs.
  • One louse (bug) can lay up to 100 eggs.
  • Nits (eggs) are small white or clear specks and are attached to the hair, usually within ¼ inch of the base of the hair shaft.
  • Nits frequently appear on the hair behind the ears and near the back of the neck.
  • Head lice make the head itch. The back of the neck may be especially itchy.

How does lice spread from one student to another?

  • Lice are spread by direct contact — when students touch their heads together or when they share brushes, combs, hats, etc.

If I find lice in my child’s hair, how do I treat it?

  • Use an effective prescription or over the counter head lice treatment.
  • Comb the head lice and nits out of the hair using a fine-toothed nit comb.
  • After you treat your child’s head, you should check your child’s hair each day and comb out any remaining nits.

What else do I need to do?

  • Use hot water to machine wash and high heat to dry your child’s bed linens and any clothing your child has worn in the last two days.
  • Soak all combs and brushes in hot water (at least 130 degrees F) for 5-10 minutes.
  • Vacuum floors and furniture. Pay particular attention to any area where your child normally sits or lays down.
  • Do not use fumigant sprays.  They can be toxic if inhaled or absorbed through the skin

If I find lice in my child’s hair, when can my child come back to school?

  • Once your child has been diagnosed with head lice and treated, you should bring your child to the nurse’s office on the day he/she returns to school.
  • The school nurse must check your child’s head to be sure that there are no live lice and that you have removed the nits

For more information on detection, treatment, and prevention from the Centers for Disease Control, click here.

Here is a link to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s website with information about head lice.

http://www.scdhec.gov/Health/DiseasesandConditions/InfectiousDiseases/InsectAnimalBorne/HeadLice/