As we've begun a new school year and inch closer to the flu season, I recommend adding the flu vaccine to your child's immunizations. After all, I love any opportunity to prevent a disease instead of having a child or parent suffer through it.
True influenza is a really bad disease -- much more dangerous than the stomach bug that so many people think it is. This disease contributes to the deaths of nearly 30,000 people a year, mostly small children and the elderly.
Many people avoid all vaccines because of what they see as the potential for complications. But I equate this view to refusing to wear a seat belt out of fear you could drown if you ever crashed into a lake. Has that ever happened? Yes. But a greater concern is that you won't be protected in the much more likely everyday crashes that can cause injury or death.
I believe choice is a gift, and I completely support parents' choices, but I work to advocate for children, and that includes them receiving all immunizations. I try to help parents understand the benefits of the vaccine, as well as the potential consequences of leaving a child vulnerable to a disease -- despite whatever the latest celebrity says.
There's a schedule for what immunizations your child should receive, based on age:
Kids starting kindergarten need their boosters for DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough), polio, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and varicella (chickenpox). Some of these can be put together in combo vaccinations. Occasionally, some children are behind on their vaccine schedule and need additional vaccines before school starts.
Kids starting junior high need their Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough) booster. Many have not received a second varicella (chickenpox) booster. I recommend getting their flu vaccine, meningococcal vaccine (meningitis) and the Gardasil (cervical cancer and other benefits) vaccine -- the only vaccine proven to prevent a cancer.
The meningitis vaccine should be given to young people at least before they go off to college. The peak age for this disease is during the college years -- it spreads most effectively in college dorms and military barracks. Because we have kids in high school and younger who die each year from this disease, I encourage children to have this vaccine as they start junior high; however, you can start vaccination as young as 9 months of age.
Aside from vaccinations, there are many ways you can keep your kids healthy throughout the year.
So many of the diseases kids get are spread through contact and via airborne route. Through no fault of the school, schools can be real cesspools. Kids come to school sick, and shed a lot of virus through their runny noses and sneezing. So, consider these tips:
* Teach children to sneeze into the crook of their elbow.
* If kids are sick, have them stay home. So many kids come to school sick because of pressure about attendance or parents having to miss work to take care of them at home.
* Make sure each child has some hand sanitizer in their backpack for frequent hand hygiene.
* Get kids outside to boost their vitamin D levels -- we're learning that this has a big role in staying healthy.
* Make sure children are exercising an hour a day -- something that gets them sweaty and that they enjoy.
And finally, be safe out there. The No. 1 cause of death for children ages 1 to 18 is accidents, and the majority of those accidents are automobile crashes. Buckle up if you remember nothing else. I can help with the flu and strep throats, but there are no do-overs on unrestrained kids in auto accidents.
Dr. Jason Hoagland is a board-certified pediatrician at the Kaysville Tanner Clinic. He also serves as chief of pediatrics at Davis Hospital and Medical Center in Layton.