Health & Fitness

Why kids are often sick when school starts; hepatitis A

Q: My 8-year-old son objected to going to school several times in the first couple of weeks, saying he had a headache. I made him go anyway, but felt so guilty about it. Did I do the right thing? -- Sarah F., Franklin, Tennessee

A: The start of a school year is stressful for kids. Socially and academically, there are a lot of unknowns, and there often are big changes in sleep schedules and daytime routines that can cause physical symptoms, such as a headache. In fact, neurologists at the Comprehensive Headache Clinic at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, looked at emergency-room records and found that at the start of the school year there’s a 30 percent spike in the number of kids who come in because of headaches!

Now, if headaches are persistent or stop your child from enjoying everyday activities, they should be evaluated. But if they aren’t triggered by a greater health issue, the researchers suggest it’s time to look at what else is going on.

Do you make sure your youngster gets 10 hours of sleep a night? Do you make time for breakfast every school day? Have you taught your child to stay hydrated and avoid sports drinks, caffeinated soda and sugary beverages? Those steps help prevent physical triggers of headaches.

It’s also important to talk to your son about his concerns. What are his classmates like? His teachers? How does he feel about his homework load? Ask him what he’s worried about. If anxiety is the cause of his headaches, that can hamper learning and interfere with making friends.

If those steps don’t help, ask yourself if you, too, are anxious about school (and transferring that anxiety to him) or if he might benefit from some counseling or therapy to strengthen his coping skills; many schools have counselors who can help at no cost. This choice can be very worthwhile for both of you.

Q: The Virginia Department of Health issued a warning about an outbreak of hepatitis A because of smoothies from a national chain. How is it possible to get hepatitis from a smoothie? -- Karen J., Arlington, Virginia

A: You can get hepatitis A from food or water that’s been contaminated by the virus; it’s often transferred from an infected food handler. You also can get it directly by touching (or kissing) someone who has contracted the disease. Health officials believe the outbreak in your area was due to tainted strawberries from Egypt. Fortunately, only about 1,200-2,500 cases are reported in the U.S. annually, but it pays to understand how to dodge and treat the disease. So here’s the bad news and the good news about hep A.

The bad news: Hepatitis A is very contagious and a person is contagious for two weeks before symptoms are obvious. Here’s the problem: Symptoms don’t usually appear for two or three weeks.

Once symptoms appear (and they don’t always) your skin and/or eyes become jaundiced (yellowish) and you get hit with a fever, fatigue, nausea, dark urine and light stools. Then all you can do is treat the symptoms by staying in bed, having some chicken soup and watching “The Dr. Oz Show.”

The good news: If you live in an outbreak area or someone in your family contracts hep A, you can dodge it by keeping hands clean with sanitizer and surfaces spotless with soap and water. And 99.99 percent of the time, folks who are infected have no lasting damage to the liver.

The best news: There’s a very effective vaccination. Adults who haven’t been vaccinated should consider it, if they’re traveling to countries where hepatitis A is common, have chronic liver disease or are in danger of being exposed to the virus.

As for smoothies, we say, “Make your own.” and have dozens of tasty, nutritious low-cal recipes that’ll boost your energy and you won’t have to worry about mystery ingredients.

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at youdocsdaily(at sign)