Summer camp often conjures up pictures of happy kids swimming in the lake, doing arts and crafts or kicking around a soccer ball. But children who congregate together sometimes spread a lot more than friendly cheer. They can be exposed to athlete’s foot, head lice, ringworm and other communal illnesses. And the great outdoors also houses critters that sting or bite and plants that cause rashes or itching. Of course parents shouldn’t avoid sending their children to camp but they should be aware of some of the potential problems and take preventative measures. Don’t hesitate to ask your child’s camp how they deal with different health and safety issues.
1. Make sure that the camp staff has first-aid and emergency training. Most camps require counsellors and other staff to attend at least an eight-hour course given by a recognized organization, such as St. John Ambulance, the Lifesaving Society or the Red Cross, says Jacqui Raill, director of Camp Ouareau. In Quebec, there is a very strict set of certification standards set by the Quebec Camp Association for health and safety issues. Some camp directors insist staff have a certification in first aid and CPR while others have a full-time nurse and/or doctor on site.
2. Ask about a camp’s “hydration policies.” It’s important that camp counsellors and staff encourage children to consume liquids during the day to prevent dehydration. “We all carry water bottles,” Raill says. We also replace sugared juice at lunch with water and we provide fresh fruit all through the day.”
3. Encourage your child to wear flip-flops in locker rooms and around the pool to prevent the spread of athlete’s foot and warts. When a camper returns home, parents should check his or her feet for flaking, peeling skin (a sign of athlete’s foot) or small growths that could be warts. Consult a doctor or pharmacist about treatment for these conditions.
4. If your child has allergies or any other medical condition, make sure the camp staff is informed and supplied with adequate medication. Raill requires parents to complete a medical survey that her health-care staff examines carefully so that they can be informed about particular issues with each camper. She also stocks her first aid kits with Epipens (used in the case of a severe allergic reaction) and asks parents to provide two Epipens, one that stays with the child and a second for the nurse’s station.
5. Send your child to camp with a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen. The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends the use of sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 on a child’s skin, including nose, ears and lips. Remember that sunscreen doesn’t start working until at least 20 minutes after it’s applied, so have a child put it on before heading outside. Also make sure that counsellors remind children to re-apply sunscreen during the day — sweat and water will wash off sunscreen after a few hours.
6. Rashes are a common summer problem and may signal that your child has touched poison ivy, oak or sumac, or has been bitten by an insect or spider. If your child is attending an overnight (residential) camp, remind him/her to tell a counsellor about any body rashes. Most rashes just need time to heal or maybe some calamine lotion or warm compresses. But if you are concerned or the rash is extensive, seek medical help.
7. Active children need strong, well-fitted shoes with good support to prevent or lessen ankle and foot injuries. The camp may offer suggestions for appropriate footwear, but consider solid shoes with backs or running shoes, not flip-flops or light sandals, for running around in.
8. Make sure your child’s hair is either short or neatly tied back, which reduces the risk of transmitting lice. If your child is coming home from camp each night, do a quick check the same way you do when they are in school. If your child attends sleepaway (residential) camp, check as soon as they get home. If you find any signs of lice, notify the camp immediately and consult with your pharmacist for the appropriate treatment.
9. Ask the camp director about how counsellors are trained to identify and respond to heat illness. Raill says the counsellors make sure that everyone is drinking plenty of water and wearing a hat in sunny weather. She also provides sprinklers around camp for all to run through on those really hot days. A quick dip in the lake on hot nights is very helpful as well.
10. Finally, as obvious as it seems, don’t send your child off to camp if he or she is sick. Sure it’s a hassle to organize childcare, but just as at school, a sick child will simply pass his or her germs along to the others.