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Back-to-school health

Please note that this article is for informational purposes. Always consult a medical professional when necessary.

By Giana Lewis-Fairley

It seems like only yesterday that our children were wrapping up their last day of school and heading off to the pool, summer camp, and family vacation. Yet, the new academic year is almost here, and it’s time to think about what’s needed to prepare them for a safe and healthy start in the classroom.

From obtaining required vaccinations to teaching youngsters basic hygiene habits and helping teenagers cope with acne, the responsibilities we face as parents are always challenging, no matter their age.

Here are some tips to make your job easier.

Sports Physicals

For middle and high schoolers, a sports physical is needed before student athletes can practice and play interscholastic sports. These exams assess your child’s physical condition and ability to participate in sports and will help to determine any issues that would put them at risk. If they are not playing school sports but participating in a community recreation league, a preparticipation physical may also be required.

These exams can be obtained from your pediatrician, family care provider, or they are available at retail clinics like MinuteClinic in select CVS Pharmacy stores in Rhode Island. No matter where you go, many physicals of this kind are not covered by health insurance, so inquire in advance about the visit cost.


Making sure your child is up to date on required vaccinations is an important item for your back to school check list. Youngsters entering kindergarten, pre-kindergarten, day care, or child care must be current on doses of their early age vaccinations You can review these on the Rhode Island Department of Health website.

For seventh graders, three vaccinations are required: Tdap vaccination (also for diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis); meningitis, which also requires a booster at 12thgrade; and HPV or human papillomavirus, which also calls for second and third doses at eighth and ninth grade.

Remember to schedule appointments for exams and immunizations in advance because primary care providers often take summer vacation. MinuteClinic, open seven days a week, is also an option.

Hygiene Tips

Shortly after school begins, we see a steady stream of students with contagious conditions such as strep throat and conjunctivitis (pink eye). That’s why I always encourage parents to stress basic hygiene and germ prevention, especially with the young ones heading off to pre-school and kindergarten for the first time.

Teach them to wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds after using the restroom and before they eat when their hands will be touching their food and mouth.

Show them how to sneeze into their sleeve – not their hands – or to cover their nose and mouth with a tissue and throw it away. Make sure they know not to share drinks or water bottles – also a good reminder for older students, particularly if they play team sports.

Lastly, caution them about sharing hats and towels, both common ways for lice to spread. Locker room towels can also be a breeding grounds for a variety of bacteria including MRSA (a.k.a. the super bug) which is responsible for several difficult-to-treat infections.


Acne is an emotional issue for many adolescents and may affect their self-esteem as they begin classes. Changes in hormones, stress, and certain medications and cosmetics can all be triggers.

Both over-the-counter products and prescription medications may be needed to achieve clearer skin. In addition, there are some steps they can take to help remove excess oil and old skin cells, and promote new skin growth.

First, consider a shorter hair style. Long hair can cause skin to be oiler; especially if it hangs in your child’s face, goes unwashed, or if they sweat a lot. Use gentle hair products and avoid gels and oils that can get in their face and clog their pores.

Next, be mindful of areas where tight-fitting items rub the skin and cause irritation (helmets for sports, headbands, bra straps, and high-collared shirts and sweaters).

Daily face washing is important. But keep it gentle.Heavy scrubbing, harsh soaps, and hot water can make acne worse. Avoid make-up whenever possible and always make sure it’s removed at the end of the day.

Here’s one final tip for students of any age: Approach the journey of back to school, starting on day one and every day after, with encouragement, motivation, and plenty of hugs! A positive attitude always contributes to good health!

Giana Lewis-Fairley is a Physician Assistant at the MinuteClinic inside the CVS Pharmacy store in Woonsocket on Cass Avenue. She resides in the area and is the mother of a three-year-old daughter.

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