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Getting ready to go back to school

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By Dr. Katherine Jett

It’s hard to believe that the lazy days of summer are quickly coming to an end, and school bells are just around the corner.  You have probably already started buying new school clothes and school supplies.  An important thing to remember with each new school year is to make sure your child’s school entry or sports physical and vaccinations are up to date.  

This year is especially important because Kentucky’s updated immunization requirements for children entering kindergarten and sixth grade.  “Ouch!  No more shots!” your kids scream.  No need to worry, the states guidelines do not invent new shot requirements.  Instead, they bring the state requirements more in line with the Center for Disease Control and American Academy of Pediatric immunization schedules that most health care providers already follow.  

The change for kindergarteners involves three vaccines.  Children are required to have completed the pneumococcal vaccine series which protects against pneumonia, the varicella vaccine which protects against chicken pox, and the MMR vaccine which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella.  Children that have chicken pox do not need the varicella vaccine and should have physician documentation of the illness.  

Sixth graders will see changes to their requirements as well.  The Tdap (tetanus and diphtheria toxoids and acellular pertussis) vaccine, meningococcal (meningitis) vaccine, and second dose of varicella vaccine (if not already done) are all necessary.  The Tdap replaces the regular tetanus shot (Td) in the shot schedule.  This change has been made because of a resurgence of whooping cough which is caused by the pertussis bacteria.  Whooping cough can cause mild runny nose and respiratory symptoms followed by weeks of coughing in kids and adults but can be very serious in infants. The meningococcal vaccine protects against life threatening bacterial meningococcal meningitis infections.

Other considerations for preschool children should be addressed during their physical.  Vision and hearing screens should be done before starting school to avoid any problems down the road.  Review your child’s allergies especially food allergies.  If there are concerns or questions about a possible allergy, specialized testing for allergies may be needed.  Also, don’t forget about scheduling a trip to the dentist for regular cleaning and fluoride treatment.

Physicals for grade-schoolers are a perfect opportunity to remind children of safety and health issues for the upcoming year.  Backpacks should be comfortable and when filled weigh no more than twenty percent of a child’s weight.  Review car and bus safety rules such as remaining in view of the driver, wearing seatbelts, and obeying crossing guards.  To help kids develop good study habits, create a special workplace at home for schoolwork and limit television watching.  If your child will need to take medication at school make sure that you discuss their conditions with the school nurse and ensure that both physician and parent signatures are on the appropriate forms allowing administration of medications.

Enjoy the remaining days of summer and take the time to make a trip to see the doctor for your physical and updated immunization certificate.  Your doctor is there to help sort through the requirements and answer your questions.  Having your child’s health in check will make the beginning of school a breeze and protect their health for years to come.

Katherine Jett, MD, is an internal medicine and pediatrics physician with Baptist Medical Associates Campbellsburg.  She can be reached at 532-7341.  For more information on Dr. Jett, office hours or a map, visit baptistmedicalassociates.com.  Articles from Dr. Jett will be appearing monthly.  If you have a suggestion for an article topic or question, please email her at bmasuggestiontopics.bhsi.com.