According to the American Camp Association, the illness rate for campers is almost double the injury rate despite rigorous training of camp staff to avoid it.
More than 10 million youngsters1 will attend more than 12,000 summer camps this year, so there is ample opportunity for each camper to catch some type of illness. The basic rule of thumb is to keep your child home if your he or she is sick. This may cause scheduling inconveniences but chances are your child’s health will get worse at camp, not better.
We want your children to remain healthy and happy this summer so here are some tips on how to stay well while enjoying summer camp.
Five tips to stay healthy at camp
Infectious diseases account for about 20 percent of illnesses among day and resident campers, and staff.2 You can help your children avoid catching colds, flu and other infectious diseases by teaching them the following:
- Proper handwashing techniques. The easiest thing to remember: add soap and wash under warm water for the length of time it takes to sing the entire “Happy Birthday” song (don’t forget the thumbs, palms, back of the hand, fingernails and between the fingers). Rinse hands for the same length of time. Hand sanitizer is effective in preventing the spread of illness, as well. When you visit the camp, locate the hand sanitizer stations and point them out to your child.
- Sneezing: Teach your children to sneeze into their elbows. Encourage them to teach their friends at camp to do the same.
- Equip children with sunscreen and teach them how to use it. Teach them how to apply it on the face, nose and neck.
- Send your child to camp with a refillable water bottle and ask that they don’t share it (at least ask that their friends don’t touch their mouths to the bottle spout). Encourage them to drink water frequently during the day. It will help them to stay hydrated in the sun and the heat.
- Send children to camp with protective equipment. Regardless of the type of camp your they attend, pack protective eyewear and a mouth guard. If your children are attending sports camp, make sure to send along protective equipment that protects their noses, mouths, faces and heads. Ask the camp counselors about their policies regarding protective equipment and make sure they insist that children wear them in order to participate in activities.
Recreational water illnesses
If your child is going to a camp that offers swimming, whether it is in a lake or a community pool, you need to be aware of additional health and safety issues.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)3 refers to “recreational water illnesses” (RWI) that can be contracted by breathing, swallowing, or touching germs. They can also be contracted by coming into contact with chemicals in the water or in the air. When chemicals in the water evaporate into the air, they turn into gas which can cause air quality problems in indoor swimming facilities.
Recreational water illnesses can be found in the following locations:
- Swimming pools
- Hot tubs
- Water parks
- Water play areas
- Interactive fountains
- Lakes, rivers, or oceans
The most common recreational water illnesses are:
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Skin infections
- Respiratory infections
- Eye and ear infections
How to prevent recreational water illnesses
- Check the inspection certificate of the pool and make sure it is current
- Make sure you can see the drain at the deep end of the pool
- Encourage children to not fill their mouths with water or to swallow it
- Check for a lifeguard
- Make sure chemicals are not stored out in the open
When your camper should see a doctor
There are times when it will be prudent for your young camper to see a doctor. Seek medical attention if, after returning from a day or a week at camp, your child exhibits signs of illness or injury. Given the many variables in any camp situation, and the many different children, it is wise to attend to illness or injury without delay. Seek medical attention if you see the following:
- Tugging or pulling at the ear
- Outside of the ear is pink or red
- Pink eye
- Scratching and itching that doesn’t stop
- Your child doesn’t “act right” or complains about not feeling good
- Fluid draining from the ear
- Coughing that doesn’t stop or sounds like a croup
Summer camp is the quintessential experience for children and it should be filled with fun and new adventures. Illness and injury can sideline your child and prematurely end their summer camp experience. Doing everything you can to protect them before they head off for a day or a week of camp will help to keep them well and safe in a new environment.