Family medicine physician Dr. Lisa A. Casey of East Jefferson General Hospital (4200 Houma Blvd., Metairie, 454-4000; www.ejgh.org) discusses children's health as students head back to school.p>Q: What are the most common diseases, conditions or injuries children face? What can we do to prevent them?
A: At school, the common diseases are going to be cough, cold, diarrhea and upset stomach. More than 90 percent of the time, (the conditions are) viral. How you can prevent them is through very good hand washing and covering your mouth when you cough — not with your hands but coughing into your sleeve. That's usually difficult for children to do, but the adults can control that. Accidents are commonly falls involving sprains or broken bones. We also see quite a few foreign bodies, where kids are sticking things in their noses or their eyes. Preventing that is simply limiting exposure to small things that could fit in (those areas).
Q: Which vaccines are the most important for kids to receive?
A: As a physician, I would say all of them. We wouldn't ask you to get them if they weren't important. With vaccines, you're helping your child, but you're protecting other children, too. Before school starts, (children) should be vaccinated against hepatitis B and the bacterial form of influenza. The MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), varicella and polio vaccines (should be taken) during school. It's important to complete those. Right now, we're seeing a resurgence of pertussis, especially in babies. The older kids carry it and aren't that sick, but then they go home to their younger sibling, who then becomes ill.
Q: When kids go back to school, what signs should parents look for to determine whether their children are having problems handling stress?
A: In high school, they're close to adults at that point, so their signs of stress will be similar to adults: changes in sleep habits, changes in eating habits and behavior changes, as in acting out. Children who formerly were getting good grades suddenly aren't. They may be looking more for attention than anything else. Smaller children may also return to bed-wetting.
Q: What's the best way to keep kids active? Is it better to let them play on their own or plan an exercise regimen for them?
A: Kids don't like regimens. Young children appreciate routine more than older children, but to say, "Do an hour of jumping jacks and pushups," that's going to be difficult; kids aren't going to want to do that. Do something they're going to like. One of the main things is to take away some of their distractions. The TV, the computer and video games are going to keep them sitting and inactive. Of course, the parent needs to contribute to their diet, which should really be balanced.
Q: How often should children visit the doctor's office?
A: Starting at 2 or 3 years old, children should visit once a year (unless they suffer an illness or injury). Prior to that, you're going all the time. (That way) if there are early signs of (a condition), then we'll pick up on it. (For example), childhood obesity contributes to high blood pressure, and that can be seen a bit earlier.
Q: What's the most important thing a parent can do for the welfare of their child?
A: The most important thing parents can do is to love their child and participate in their life. When you pick up your child from school, ask, "What did you do today? What did you learn today?" Parents should be a part of that experience with them and keep the lines of communication open. Have a positive attitude toward their schoolwork. If you treat it as a nuisance, then that is the same attitude that they will have toward it. Stay involved, and be on a team with the teacher to create an atmosphere where learning is fun and something to be excited about.