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by Mike Kirwan

Related: camp, summer, children, kids, health,

      Nicks, scrapes, bumps, and bruises are all part of growing up, but that doesn't mean that bug bites, sunburns, and trips to the emergency room have to be.  Summer camp is a place to release all of the pent-up energy from the school year, and an increase in physical activity can lead to a spike in risks. But keeping kids healthy at camp doesn't require knowledge of the latest medical journals — just a good dose of common sense.

   As any parent preparing for the summer knows, there are a myriad of camps to choose from. Some children might want to dedicate the dog days to playing baseball, while curious types might opt for a few months exploring science, and adventurous kids might head into the wilderness for an experience away from home at a sleep-away camp. While each camp has its own set of health concerns, there are a few basics parents should know — and prepare for — before sending the kids off.

   Mary Walsh, R.N., knows a thing or two about children's health concerns. Walsh spends her summers dangling her toes in the water, but during the school year this Brooklyn-born school nurse deals with the business of ice packs, Epipens, and coughing kids.

   Walsh insists that the key to a healthy summer begins with communication and organization. "First and foremost," she advises, "talk to your child about safe and appropriate behavior, listening to the counselors, and following rules and directions."

   While it's difficult to safeguard against minor cuts and abrasions, Walsh says that communicating clearly to children about what to do and whom to see when a problem arises is vital. Camp nurses will be able to properly assess injuries and illnesses, and can send the child to a physician if the problem warrants a further look.

   Just as parents prepare kids with gloves and caps during the winter, so too must they prepare kids with extra hats, sunscreen, and a refillable bottle of water to protect against the summer heat. Children attending camp outside the city should also be outfitted in long socks and pants to protect against the threat of ticks and Lyme disease. As during the school year, children should steer clear of sharing hats, pillows, and combs in order to avoid a case of head lice.

   Here are a few tips for a safe and healthy summer camp experience:

  Don't give your child medicine to self-administer. Follow the directions and protocols of the camp for medications, including prescriptions and over-the-counter.

  Complete medical forms completely and carefully.

  Make a list of questions, and then get the answers: Is there a doctor on site? How far and where is the nearest hospital? How many nurses are at the camp? What is the ratio of medical professionals to campers?

  Let the camp know of any special medical or dietary needs, i.e., bee or nut allergies. Inform the staff of any serious medical issues your child might have, especially if they require the use of an Epipen or inhaler.

  Last but not least, thank the nurses! They are taking care of the most precious and valuable thing you have – your child!

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