January 17, 2020 by John Fernandez
Spring Break Safety
Spring Break provides the perfect opportunity for kids to shed the winter doldrums and create springtime memories. For parents, it’s a time when encouraging fun and independence often conflicts with safety.
“Spring Break marks the return to pool and beach activities in South Florida,” said Fernando Mendoza, M.D., medical director of the Children’s Emergency Center at Baptist Children’s Hospital and of Pediatric Emergency Services for West Kendall Baptist Hospital. “It’s also when we begin to see more water-related injuries in the ER.”
Dr. Mendoza says that injuries from near-drowning or drowning – so called submersion injuries – can happen year-round. Data show, though, that most drowning deaths in Florida happen in April, May and June. And while national data point to a decrease in drowning deaths for children, ages 5-19, between 1999 and 2010, that same age group sees the most deaths from swimming pool and natural bodies of water – lakes, rivers and oceans.
“It’s not just young children that we see injured in water accidents,” he said. “Even teens who are experienced swimmers are at risk because they underestimate the dangers associated with water activities. Jumping from a high elevation into water, rough play or pounding surf contribute to injuries and drowning in this age group.”
Dr. Mendoza recommends parents supervise young children around water and install physical barriers, like door locks and pool fences, to prevent access to swimming pools when an adult is not around. For older children and teens, he admits it’s more difficult to prevent accidents. But, he says, talking to them about the risks involved with roughness and dangerous behaviors can be helpful.
Other common injuries during Spring Break include scrapes, bruises and fractures caused by falls from bicycles, skateboards and trampolines.
“When kids are outside more, the risk of injury is greater,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Couple that with lack of adult supervision, and conditions are ripe for injury.”
A father to school-aged kids himself, Dr. Mendoza suggests protective wear, like bicycle helmets, to prevent head injuries. He also reminds his own kids to pay attention when riding their bikes or skateboards, since drivers are distracted and often can’t see smaller individuals from their vehicles.
Unique to warmer climates, like South Florida, is the threat of heat-related conditions such as dehydration, cramping, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, a life-threatening heat illness.
“Children should be reminded to drink fluids often, even when they are swimming,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Our bodies lose fluid very quickly in the South Florida climate, especially with the humidity here. When kids are running around or otherwise active, dehydration can affect them in little time.”
Additionally, time spent outdoors can lead to too much sun exposure. “Sunburn is a real threat, too,” he said. “Parents should apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to their kids at least every couple of hours, more often if swimming or sweating.” UV-protective clothing, hats and sunglasses are also recommended. For older kids and teens, who may ignore these suggestions and end up with a severe sunburn, Dr. Mendoza advises parents to watch for signs of fever, dizziness or nausea, which may indicate a serious condition, commonly known as sun poisoning, that needs immediate medical attention. Blistering, too, may require medical attention, especially if it leads to signs of infection.
This Spring Break, doctors also warn parents of an elevated risk of children contracting the flu or measles, especially when traveling to other parts of the country.
Baptist Health Medical Group Pediatrician Javier Hiriart, M.D., from the Family Medicine Center at West Kendall Baptist Hospital, says that vaccinations are mostly effective in preventing these diseases, especially if given when recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And while this year’s influenza vaccine has proven less effective in preventing certain strains, he still urges parents to get themselves and their children vaccinated to minimize potential dangers.
“Unlike in northern parts of the United States where flu season is beginning to taper off, we see seasonal flu in Florida until April or May,” Dr. Hiriart said. “Even if you haven’t yet received a flu vaccine, it’s still worth getting to get through this expanded season.”
When it comes to measles, especially concerning to parents of unvaccinated children, Dr. Hiriart advises catching kids up to the recommended vaccination schedule.
“The MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine is 95 percent effective when given the time to work,” he said. And he suggests parents check their own vaccinations to be sure they’re up-to-date, too. “People born before 1957 are assumed to have natural immunity to measles. Anyone born in 1957 or after should have received two doses of the MMR vaccine to prevent contracting the disease.”
Dr. Hiriart notes that parents with children under 6 months old should be especially cautious with travel plans. Infants this age, he says, are still getting their primary vaccines and may be more susceptible to infections in general.
When his patients plan to travel out of the country for Spring Break, Dr. Hiriart suggests they review the Travelers’ Health section of the CDC’s website to ensure they protect themselves from potential illnesses abroad, such as Hepatitis A and malaria. He advises that as soon as you begin making travel arrangements for international travel, including cruises, start getting vaccinated against diseases common in the areas to where you are traveling. “This allows the vaccines time to build or boost your immunity against these diseases,” he said.
Both Dr. Mendoza and Dr. Hiriart suggest parents use good old-fashioned common sense to protect their children from the potential dangers that can occur during Spring Break.
“Kids and accidents go hand in hand,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Spring Break is a good time to remind ourselves and our kids to be prepared and pay attention to dangerous conditions.”
Dr. Hiriart echoes that sentiment and adds that with contagious diseases you must remain vigilant about hand hygiene. “You won’t know who you are being exposed to, so be sure you’re protecting you and your family as much as possible.”