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Staying Healthy as Kids Go Back to School

Aug 24, 2022 Healthy Living Share:

If you live or work with kids, you know that August marks back-to-school season in Alabama.

For the past couple of years, this season has been marked by tense debates about how to keep kids and communities healthy in the context of Covid-19.

But as we begin a return to a more normal school year, many are concerned about keeping their kids healthy, especially as Covid restrictions are relaxed. But there’s no need to fear. A return to normal is essential for helping kids lead whole and healthy lives.

Let's Talk About Covid

Chances are pretty good that things at your kids’ schools look a lot like they did in the fall of 2019. This is a good thing! But you may be wondering why this is possible, especially since Covid is still circulating in our communities. But just because Covid is still around, it doesn’t mean that we need to behave any differently.

The truth is, Covid is no longer a novel disease. As of February 2022, over 75% of kids tested positive for antibodies to Covid-19. As Covid has continued to circulate, it’s safe to assume that the percentage is even higher now, six months later.1 What this means is the vast majority of kids have had Covid and recovered - even if they never knew they had it in the first place.

This doesn’t mean they’ll never get Covid again. As the virus continues to mutate, it becomes more and more likely that individuals with prior infections will be reinfected. But coronaviruses have always been a part of our lives, even before Covid-19 came on the scene. They manifest as a common cold and for most kids, a brush with Covid will look like any other cold.

But what about the adults and vulnerable individuals that live with these kids? Dr. Jordan Vaughn, CEO of MedHelp Clinics in Birmingham, says, “The data we’re seeing shows that adults and vulnerable individuals who lived with young children actually had better outcomes with Covid-19 than those who did not. It looks like cross-immunity played a role in reducing rates of hospitalization due to the virus."2

Data also indicate that in-person school did not contribute to an increase in community spread of Covid. In fact, it demonstrated limited student-to-student transmission within schools.3

How Sickness Can Help

You may be surprised to learn that in order to develop a child’s immune system, they actually have to get sick. The immune system is designed to fight off illnesses, and through this exposure, it gets better at doing so. Everyone is born with innate immunity to fight off pathogens, but your body has to develop its adaptive immunity through exposure to diseases. You need both parts of your immune system to work together to effectively fight off illnesses.

Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, was dangerous because our immune systems had never seen it before. Exposure to the virus through a previous infection enables the adaptive immune system to recognize and better fight off the illness (even as it mutates). Traditional vaccines, such as the flu shot and MMR vaccines, also work to train the adaptive immune system through safe, minimal exposure to a pathogen.

While no one wants to see their kids get sick, their sicknesses now offer protection for their future. “If you’re old enough to remember life before the chickenpox vaccine, chickenpox used to spread like wildfire through elementary schools. And as awful as it was to get sick with chickenpox as a kid, it’s just so much worse to get it when you’re 25.” Other illnesses such as fifth disease and coxsackievirus (which is responsible for the dreaded hand-foot-mouth disease) are much worse in adults than in children.

Kids’ immune systems do a great job of handling the germs that come their way. (This explains why your kindergartener can have a 101-degree fever and still be running around the house.) By allowing your children to be exposed to typical childhood illnesses, you’re actually setting them up for a healthier adulthood.

You don’t need to be afraid of the germs circulating at school this year. If your kids have been mostly well these past two years, you should expect them to bring home some pretty crummy bugs that aren’t Covid-19. But childhood illnesses are an essential part of child development and should be expected.

Stay Healthy this School Year

While you should expect kids to pick up some bugs at school this year, that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to support their immune systems (and your own). Immune support helps your body fight off illnesses more effectively and may shorten the duration of some illnesses.

For starters, everyone should wash their hands and stay home when they’re sick. There’s no need to quarantine an entire household, but anyone with a fever, vomiting, diarrhea, body aches, or respiratory symptoms that aren’t due to allergies should stay home until they’re fever-free and feeling better.

Other things you can do to keep yourself and your kids healthy this school year include:

  • Get plenty of sleep. People who don't get enough sleep are more likely to get sick when they're exposed to illnesses, so make sleep a top priority. Back-to-school is a great time to develop consistent bedtime routines for everyone.
  • Exercise. Moderate, consistent exercise that gets your heart rate up (such as walking, biking, jogging, or strength training) provides the most benefit to your immune system. It's especially important to make time for exercise now that everyone's spending more time at a desk or working on homework.
  • Reduce stress. Chronic stress can suppress the immune system, so it's essential to find healthy ways to manage your stress response. Practice deep breathing, doing something you enjoy, staying connected with others, or meeting with a trusted friend or therapist. Both kids and adults need to find healthy ways to manage their stress.
  • Take supplements. Vitamin C and Vitamin D have both been proven to support overall immune function and can help you fight off illnesses faster. Always talk with your doctor or your child's pediatrician before taking new supplements.
  • Schedule a check-up. If it's been a little while since you or your child has had a check-up, now's the perfect time to schedule that appointment. Remember, your primary care doctor is your ally for better health.
  • Get your flu shot. Flu shots are proven vaccines that provide good protection against serious illness and hospitalization due to the flu. These are available annually and are tailored for the specific strains circulating this year. Now's also a great time to check with your doctor to make sure you're not due for any other needed vaccines.

Remember that staying healthy isn’t the same as never getting sick. Dr. Vaughn emphasizes the importance of living healthy lives. “We want our patients and their families to live full, quality lives. That’s why we’re committed to treating your body as well as your spirit.”


References:

1 Clarke KE, Jones JM, Deng Y, et al. Seroprevalence of Infection-Induced SARS-CoV-2 Antibodies — United States, September 2021–February 2022. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2022;71:606-608. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7117e3

2 Solomon M, Escobar, G, Lu Y., et al. (2022). Risk of severe Covid-19 infection among adults with prior exposure to children. PNAS. 119(33). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2204141119

3 CDC Science Brief: Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in K-12 Schools and Early Care and Education Programs. Retrieved 18 August 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/science/science-briefs/transmission_k_12_schools.html

Stay Healthy this School Year

Whether you need urgent care for an illness, an annual check-up, or a flu shot, MedHelp is your partner for better health as you head back to school. And since we know your schedule is busier than ever, we’re open 7 days a week with extended weekday hours at most of our Birmingham locations.

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