An unexpected illness can jeopardize even the most exciting summer plans — especially when it strikes during camp. While catching a virus or common cold is sometimes inevitable, these strategies can reduce the risk.
Practice good hygiene. Make sure your camper knows to frequently wash his hands and arms — carrying sanitizer is a must — and avoid sharing drinks, hats and combs.
Rest up. Studies show that lack of sleep affects the immune system’s ability to prevent and recover from illness, so getting plenty of shut-eye is crucial: The Mayo Clinic recommends 10 or more hours a night for school- aged kids and nine to 10 hours for teens.
Monitor an existing illness. Five to 7 percent of illnesses found at camps start before kids even arrive, according to a report by the American Camp Association. So if your child gets sick shortly before arrival, make arrangements for him to start camp when he’s no longer contagious.
Report conditions early. “The earlier an illness is caught, the less chance that it’ll be spread to others,” says Paige Lucarelli, MSN, RN, a nurse at Camp Montessori in Wilmington, DE. Still, she warns, “many illnesses are contagious before symptoms begin.”
Camps take precautions
For their part, camps employ several strategies in addition to an onsite nurse to safeguard kids’ health. At Medford, NJ’s residential Camp Dark Waters, director Travis Simmons says cabin bunks are positioned so kids sleep “head to toe,” or at opposite ends, to maximize fresh air between them.
The camp also serves an electrolyte beverage similar to Gatorade on sweltering days to boost campers’ nutrient intake. “Once we started serving the drink, we saw fewer kids coming to the infirmary from stomachaches, headaches and other signs of dehydration,” Simmons reports.
Michael Mackrides, director and partner at Indian Springs Day Camp in Chester Springs, PA, says educating campers and their families on how to avoid summertime dangers such as dehydration, sunburn and poison ivy can also cut down trips to the nurse.
Communication is key
Although camp is an opportunity for youngsters to spend time away from home, parents are immediately notified when their child falls ill — and they still play a major role in keeping kids healthy.
“Communication between caregivers and nursing staff is essential,” says Courtney Izett, director of residential YMCA Camp Tockwogh in Worton, MD. At many camps, the two work together to decide which activities are safe for the child to participate in or whether she should be sent home.
Camps also teach kids to take responsibility for their health: The camp’s first-day itinerary includes a visit to the wellness center, where children get to know the nursing staff during wellness checks.
“We emphasize to campers how important it is to let a nurse know as soon as they feel sick,” Izett says.
How camps handle illness
For minor issues that might not warrant a trip home, staff assess if the condition is contagious, how long the camper will be absent from activities and his caregivers’ preferences even while they begin treatment.
Camps also consider whether staff can safely provide the child with the amount of care he needs while looking after other ill campers, Lucarelli says. If a child is expected to miss more than a day, Simmons notes, “It’s our feeling that kids get better quicker in the comfort of their own beds.” Once a child’s been fever free for more than 24 hours, he can come right back.
“Part of gaining independence at camp is learning how to take care of yourself,” Simmons concludes, “and sometimes that includes getting sick.”