Nick Springer was only 14 and off to what was supposed to be a wonderful summer at camp. But according to an article earlier this month, the Colorado boy was suddenly stricken ill.
“He remembered feeling uncomfortable around 6 p.m.,” says the article in the Greeley Tribune. “It was noon the next day when he collapsed on the floor.
“He couldn’t feel anything from the chest down.”
Despite a coma that lasted two months, Nick survived. But both legs, from the knee down, and both arms, from the elbow down, were amputated. Now 31, he is an active advocate for vaccines.
Most kids fully enjoy camp, safe and generally healthy; for many, their worst moments consist of a bout or two of homesickness. But there’s no getting around the fact that summer camp is one of those places where contagious diseases can spread rapidly. As with college dorms, young people are living together in close quarters 24/7. They share their containers of beverages and lend all kinds of personal belongings to each other. And to be perfectly frank about it, they’re not always being all that picky about personal hygiene; after all, it’s camp and that’s part of the fun.
Still, you want your children, whether campers or counselors, to stay as healthy as possible, so before sending your child off to camp, consider the vaccines they might need. That’s especially true this year, when there have been outbreaks of mumps, whooping cough and measles. Your child’s doctor can best advise you about which vaccines your child needs. Here are some you might want to ask about, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
Tetanus: At some point from ages 11-18—preferably at age 11 or 12—a one-time Tdap booster should be given, protecting against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, or whooping cough. For children who don’t need the Tdap vaccine, but who haven’t had a tetanus shot in 10 or more years, the Td shot is often recommended. Boy Scout camps require tetanus vaccination.
Meningococcal disease: Quadrivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccine is routinely recommended for 11- through 18-year-olds, according to the HHS. The first dose is given at 11-12 years old with a booster dose at 16 years old.
Mumps: There have been outbreaks of mumps throughout the nation over the past year. Many of these have been at colleges, where living conditions are similar to those at summer camps. But some of the outbreaks have occurred around schools and communities, including here in Texas. Because the vaccine against mumps is 88 percent effective—meaning 12 of 100 vaccinated people will catch the disease if exposed—herd immunity is especially important. That keeps children from being exposed in the first place.
Measles: The big outbreak in Minnesota, with at least 75 stricken so far and more than 20 hospitalized, reminds us of how quickly this disease can sweep through a community. It’s extremely contagious: 90 percent of those exposed to measles will fall ill. But the vaccine is also very effective: Only 3 percent of vaccinated people will become ill if exposed.
Hepatitis A: Ask your doctor if your child should be vaccinated against this liver disease.
Check the rules for your child’s summer camp. Many camps require their campers to be vaccinated, with exemptions for children who have medical conditions that make vaccination dangerous for them, and in some cases, for families with religious exemptions. The American Camp Assn. includes vaccination requirements in its accreditation of camps. Accrediting inspectors check to see whether a camp requires “a statement from the custodial parent/guardian attesting that all immunizations required for school are up to date and including the actual date (month/year) of last tetanus shot.”
Many camps also recommend a flu shot for campers. It makes a lot of sense. Summer might not be the height of flu season, but that doesn’t mean the illness isn’t around.
It’s wise to think beyond what’s required, protecting your child against all of the diseases called for in the vaccine schedule of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Far from home, in barracks-like living quarters, our children deserve a summer break filled with exciting activities and free from preventable diseases.
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