Cuts and bug bites, sprains and bruises aren’t all that children are at risk for at summer camp this year. News reports from around the country indicate that Swine flu is spreading through dozens of camps. Some have shut down. Some are delaying their opening. Others are treating campers with antiviral drugs. If you’ve got a child you love heading to camp or even vacation Bible school this summer, what should you know?
I’ve been involved with summer camps my whole life, and have dealt with summer camp health issues for the last 30 years. But this year is totally unique. We’ve never seen a summer in which camps have had do deal with something like the Swine fly.
Why? The seasonal flu has usually subsided by this time of year.
“It’s kind of a wake-up call to be aware of this,” Ann Sheets, past president of the American Camp Association, told the Dallas Morning News. “The thing that is saddest to us is, there are kids who look forward to camp for the whole year, and then they don’t get to go.”
Swine flu, now officially known as a novel H1N1 influenza, appears to be here for the summer and should last until the seasonal flu season begins in the fall, said Dr. Daniel Jernigan, deputy director of the influenza division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Flu cases are popping up at scouting, religious, and other camps across the country, including in Texas, North Carolina, New York and Georgia.
Campers and staff at Greene Family Camp near Waco, including many from the Dallas area, are taking Tamiflu to prevent the spread of the disease after one confirmed and four suspected swine flu cases.
And the Muscular Dystrophy Association has canceled its remaining 47 camps across the country, including one for North Texas children. Flu cases have occurred among participants in previous MDA camps this year.
Some sessions of a Union for Reform Judaism camp in California were canceled after large numbers of staff and volunteers began to exhibit flulike symptoms.
Officials with Camp Sabra in Missouri, decided Monday to close for a week. Jewish Community Center of St. Louis spokeswoman Margaret Schatz said she did not know how many of the 375 to 400 staff and campers were ill but said they were isolated from the rest of the campers.
Sheets said her organization does not determine whether camps should offer refunds, and that each camp is different and would make that determination for itself.
Nearly all flu circulating in the United States is swine flu. While it is generally milder than regular seasonal flu, it is still contagious, and 87 of the 21,449 cases reported nationwide have been fatal.
Advice to parents from both county health officials and federal ones is simple: If your child is sick, don’t send him or her to camp, day care or a day recreation program.
Parents don’t need to fret over whether their children will catch the flu, the experts say. But preparedness doesn’t hurt.
“Speaking as a parent of a daughter headed to camp next week, you want to be engaged in knowing that your camp has a plan,” said Joe Quimby, a CDC spokesman. “Are they going to be proactive about dealing with flu? We want kids to go and have an enjoyable summer.”
The onus is especially on parents of sick children, health officials said. “A lot of this still relies on the parents checking their kids before they send them out the door,” Nemeth said. He said he understood the strains that can put on families, especially those with two working parents, but said it was important to prevent the spread of disease.
So, the two take home points when it comes to summer camps and kids:
- If you child is sick, even with a mild sickness, do NOT send them to camp. Keep them at home until well (meaning, at least 24 hours after all symptoms have resolved), and
- Before you send you child to a summer camp, be sure those administering the camp have a plan for how to deal with children who become ill. I would NOT send my child to a camp that did not have such a plan.