Why Are My Kids Sick On Summer Break?

I went to bed the first night of summer vacation, dreaming of a relaxing week ahead.

Sick child | PregnancyAndBaby.com

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And then, as most things in parenting seem to go, my dreams were a bit shattered when I woke up to the tentative sound of my 6-year-old saying, 

"Mama? Daddy? Someone's puking..." followed by the ever-so distinctive sound of the 4-year-old puking her guts out. (Side note: stir-fry was a bad choice.)

And so kicked off our summer vacation from hell — a full two weeks of a vicious stomach bug that seemed to pass from one family member to the next and only rendering me, the matriarch of the family, completely incapacitated after everyone else had recovered. Because of course.

Why summer?

While running back and forth from the bathroom and in between scrubbing puke out of carpet and favorite blankets (translation: super fun), I couldn't help but ponder the question, why summer?

Why on earth were we hit with a horrific stomach bug at the start of summer? Isn't that the type of illness that is reserved for the blistering cold winter months, when everyone is stuffed inside and passing germs to each other like used tissues? Surely all those bugs and viruses are killed off in the fresh air of summer!

Well, no, says Maria Alexies O. Samonte, M.D., FAAP, the medical director of Partners in Pediatrics, Geisinger Health System. "Activities are usually done outdoors in the summer, so that means exposure to sun and insect and tick bites are more common," she explains. "As for foodborne illness — no refrigeration (most bacteria grow more in warm and humid environments) and lack of washing facilities (unable to do handwashing) may result in more sickness."

Summertime sadness

As my family was lucky enough to experience, stomach ailments are actually quite common in the summer. Dr. Samonte dubs the sickness "acute gastroenteritis," or in other words, severe vomiting and diarrhea. The stomach upset may be the result of a bacterium or other pathogen, picked up from the great outdoors or an unclean pool, or be viral in nature, as ours was, and accompanied by a fever.

She also cites sunburn, swimmer's ear and tick and insect bites as the top offenders in the summer sickness culprits.

Survival kit

So what do you need to survive a bout of summer sickness, besides what is hopefully endless patience and a reliable Netflix subscription? "Prevention is key," says Dr. Samonte.

To prevent sunburn, she recommends using sunblock, staying in the shade and avoiding being outdoors from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For those who frequent a pool in the summer months, be on the look-out for the dreaded swimmer's ear. Dry ear canals after swimming and if you do develop swimmer's ear, speak to your care provider about using antibiotic ear drops.

Avoid tick and other insect bites by staying away from bushy or high-grass areas, wearing light-colored clothing to monitor ticks closely, using insect repellent and tucking pants into socks when walking into the bushes. At the end of the day, do a check for ticks and watch for signs of a bite mark.

Acute gastroenteritis can also be avoided by cooking and storing food at the right temperature. Dr. Samonte recommends practicing frequent handwashing when preparing food to prevent cross-contamination of foodborne pathogens.

Stock up

To make sure that you're not left high and dry if you and your kids are hit by a summer sickness, be sure to stock up on a few essentials to keep you healthy and comfortable. And hey, since summer is already in full swing, maybe you'll score a few deals!

  • Aloe and cooling measures for sunburn.
  • Antibiotic ear drops, by prescription only.
  • Benadryl as needed for itching from insect bites and a topical antibiotic to be used with a local infection.
  • With a tick bite, watch for signs of Lyme disease, which include a rash, a bite with a ring around it and flu-like symptoms. If you suspect Lyme disease, then seek medical attention for an oral antibiotic.
  • For hydration, increase oral fluids. Popsicles can be helpful in those warmer months.

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