Don't let fears squelch summertime fun
By Darcy Lewis
July is vacation season, but parental fears, both real and imagined, never take a break. If anything, worries multiply when warm weather sends children outdoors. Here's the scoop on some new and some old summertime health concerns.
Monkeypox virus It's a new disease and it's from Africa. It may be serious, but it's too early to know if the hype and headlines are warranted.
"I think it's something that's new so it needs to be taken seriously," says William Paul, the deputy commissioner at the Chicago Department of Public Health. "We want to contain it so it doesn't become established in any sort of wildlife or domestic animals here in the U.S.," he says.
Monkeypox is similar to West Nile virus, both were recently introduced to the Western Hemisphere. West Nile took hold quickly, so health officials are acting aggressively to make sure monkeypox does not gain a foothold.
Children are not very vulnerable to West Nile, but they can contract the monkeypox virus. Paul says it appears that only kids in contact with ill prairie dogs are at risk. Officials believe Gambian rats at a Villa Park pet store infected the prairie dogs, which then passed the virus to humans.
Monkeypox isn't typically fatal in humans, but can cause fever, chills and rashes. The incubation period is about 12 days. Monkeypox "has some similarity to smallpox but it's milder and less contagious," Paul says. All cases thus far have occured in people who have had close contact with infected prairie dogs, he says.
Falls from windows This is not just an urban high-rise problem. "Window falls happen throughout the city and suburbs," says Dr. Karen Sheehan, an emergency physician at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. "People who don't live in high-rises feel it can't happen to their kids, but our data show most falls occur in two- and three-flat homes."
The risk of children falling from a window is two times greater than contracting leukemia and five times greater than developing a brain tumor.
Sheehan says there are about 100 falls in Illinois each year, about half of which occur in Chicago. While there aren't many fatalities, about 30 percent suffer traumatic brain injuries.
Here's what you can do: • Install inexpensive sash stops (found in home-improvement stores) to prevent window opening more than 4 inches.
• Install removable window guards (about $25). Window screens will not keep kids from falling. "They keep bugs out, not kids in," says Sheehan.
• Move furniture away from windows. "We've had many kids who bounced on the bed, then fell straight through the window," says Sheehan.
Dog bites Man's best friend bites more than 2.8 million children a year, according to the Schaumburg-based American Veterinary Medical Association. Most bites can be prevented if parents supervise children closely and teach safe behaviors, says the association's Sharon Granskog.
Most parents are careful watching their children around unfamiliar dogs, but are less likely to do so around the family pet, she notes. But a a huge percentage of dog bites are from the family dog.
Also, Granskog warns parents never to leave a baby or young child alone with any dog—-even their own—until they know that the child won't provoke the dog, either intentionally or unintentionally. For many children, this might be in early elementary school, she says.
Granskog recommends all children be taught: • Never approach an unfamiliar dog. If it approaches you, stand still as a statue. If you run from a dog, that activates its hunting instincts.
• Never stare at a dog or disturb it while eating, sleeping or caring for puppies.
• If a dog is about to attack, put something such as a backpack or bicycle, between you and the dog.
• If a dog knocks you over, stop and drop into a ball. Cover your face and lie still.
If a bite occurs, wash the area with soap and water and seek medical attention, even if the bite doesn't seem serious. Don't hesitate to request treatment from a plastic surgeon if you are concerned about scarring. Finally, report the bite to local police—they may refer you to the health department or animal-control agency.
As Sheehan says, "There are many unpreventable dangers out there, so it just makes sense to prevent the ones you can."Darcy Lewis is a freelance writer who lives in Riverside with her husband and two boys, ages 9 and 3. Find previous Healthy Child columns at www.chicagoparent.com.