Summer camp season is almost here. Whether your child’s summer plans include day camp, sports clinics, or sleepaway camp, a few preventive measures can prevent illness and injuries, helping to keep your camper happy and healthy all season long.
Dr. Rachel Geronemus, a pediatrician at Scarsdale Medical Group, notes that most camps ask for proof that a child has had a full physical examination before attending. While New York state law considers physical exams every two years “current” for students returning to school up to grade 11, a yearly exam prior to the start of camp is ideal for children and adolescents, says Dr. Geronemus. “For ages 2 and up, I recommend an annual physical in order to maintain good health, discuss preventative measures, and as a way of picking up subtle signs that could indicate an existing or developing condition that may be cause for concern. Prior to age 2, children need to be seen even more often.”
The annual physical is also an important time to make sure your child is up-to-date on vaccines. During the pandemic, vaccine rates declined, so it’s more important than ever to make sure that your child is fully vaccinated against vaccine-preventable diseases.
Allergic conditions, such as “hay fever” and asthma, are common in the US. Some children may need to carry an inhaler for treatment or prevention of asthma symptoms. If the child takes medication for such conditions, they must be dispensed by a camp official, usually its onsite health director. (New York state requires at least one such person, depending on the number of enrolled children.)
If your child is taking medication of any kind, be sure that they have a sufficient supply to get them through the day (or, if they’re going to a sleepaway camp, for their entire stay). Prescriptions should be filled well before camp begins.
Insects will also be in attendance. If your child has been diagnosed with anaphylaxis – a severe allergic reaction to bug bites/stings that could be life-threatening – they likely already carry an epinephrine auto-injector, such as an EpiPen, that should be used immediately. Such tools can also be used in cases of acute allergic reactions to foods and other substances. Camps are required to file full reports with the state whenever epinephrine is administered.
As for the ever-present worry about tick-borne illnesses, Dr. Geronemus says serious cases of Lyme disease are not common. Once attached, it takes ticks at least 36 hours to transmit Lyme disease, so careful body checks for ticks and bites are a good idea. Likewise, if a tick is attached for greater than 36 hours or for an unknown length of time, the Hospital considers treating a child with prophylactic antibiotics.
Don’t Forget the Sunscreen!
Camps are generally good to remind parents about the need for sunscreen during those hot summer days, but you should check with your pediatrician or a dermatologist as to what kind is best for your child, how often they should reapply, etc. Camp can be even more physically taxing than school, so if your child is likely to be going on long hikes or otherwise will be in the sun for extended periods, be sure they have the appropriate sunscreen with them.
The COVID-19 Question
If your child has been diagnosed with COVID, observe the standard protocols before sending them off to camp. The latest New York state guidelines for isolation, quarantine and so on can be found here.
If your child has had a moderate to severe case of COVID in the past, consult with their physician as to whether there are extra precautions you should take. Very few kids will require another screening, but it is always a good idea to be sure.
Lastly, when it comes to injuries sustained at camp, studies have shown only two reported major illnesses or injuries for every 1,000 kids. The most common mishap is a stomachache or bug that a child could just as easily have acquired at home.
None of this information is meant to scare you away from sending your child to camp. Instead, by taking these steps, you can ensure that your child, as well as those they will be interacting with, will indeed be happy campers.