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Prevention key to keeping child healthy

By making sure your child – from birth through teenage years – has the proper vaccinations, diet and environment, you are setting a tone for good health that will stand him or her in good stead for a lifetime, said Margaret Ng-Cadlaon, M.

Thursday, August 26, 1999

By making sure your child – from birth through teenage years – has the proper vaccinations, diet and environment, you are setting a tone for good health that will stand him or her in good stead for a lifetime, said Margaret Ng-Cadlaon, M.D.

"It is much easier to prevent illnesses than to fix problems," the popular pediatrician said.

Vaccinations your child should receive include:

Hepatitis: To be effective, this vaccine should be given three times, Dr. Ng-Cadlaon advised. This is an important vaccine, she added, especially for older children.

Polio: Oral polio vaccines should not be administered during the child’s first year of life. "We now give shots, which are 100 percent safe," Dr. Ng-Cadlaon said. "When a child is older, the oral vaccine may be used, but not during the first year."

Flu: This vaccine should be given annually to every child over age 1. Dr. Ng-Cadlaon said this year’s flu vaccines should arrive at physicians’ offices soon and should be given at the end of September or first of October. "Whether the child is healthy or not, each child should get a flu shot," she urged.

Tetanus: As with some other vaccines, tetanus must be given as a series of shots to have maximum effectiveness. Tetanus normally is given as five shots over a period of many months when the child is between ages 4 and 6. Diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough) also are part of this mandatory vaccine.

HIB: This combination vaccine prevents severe pneumonia and meningitis.

Chicken pox: Although this vaccine is not required in Ohio, Dr. Ng-Cadlaon strongly urges her patients age 1 and older to be vaccinated against this potentially fatal disease. "The vaccine gives an 85 to 90 percent protection, so that if the child gets chicken pox, it will be a milder case," she explained. "Too many people think chicken pox is a mild infection; however, I disagree. There are many problems associated with chicken pox. It can kill."

MMR: This vaccine protects children against measles, mumps and rubella. It also is given after the child’s first birthday and provides 85 to 90 percent protection. "These three diseases are very rare now because everyone is getting the shots," Dr. Ng-Cadlaon said. "I only see mumps and measles about once a year because it is a required vaccine in Ohio."

Other shots: If you wish to travel outside the United States, additional vaccines might be necessary, Dr. Ng-Cadlaon added, such as hepatitis A and malaria. She advised travelers to check with their physicians prior to leaving the country to make sure they are properly protected against the danger of infection.

She stressed the importance of parents discussing potential problems with their child’s pediatrician.

"A lot of parents are just in and out when they take their children to the doctor," she said. "Many parents hesitate to talk about other problems.

"By talking, we can find out the root cause of many chronic health problems. For example, if a child always has ear infections, in addition to treating the infection, we should look for environmental factors that may be causing the problem. Second-hand smoke can contribute to ear infections, for example, but the doctor has no way of knowing that unless the parents and doctor talk."

Chronic asthma attacks may be the result of too much potpourri or the use of cologne in a household, Dr. Ng-Cadlaon added.

"Spending a little bit of extra time makes sense and can help prevent serious problems," she stressed.

She called smoking the No. 1 trigger of childhood asthma, allergies and ear infections and urged parents either to stop smoking or to smoke outdoors. Other potential allergy triggers include pet dander.

Simple good manners also can be effective in stopping the spread of diseases and infections, Dr. Ng-Cadlaon added.

"Never eat or drink after another person. That is the biggest way students spread germs," she said. "Also, when you cough, always cover your mouth.

Other potential health risks include strep throat, which Dr. Ng-Cadlaon said has become a year-round health menace.

"It is an easy infection to treat if it is brought to the doctor right away," she said. "The treatment is simple penicillin, but if parents allow the child’s strep infection to go untreated, there are other potential problems, such as rheumatic heart disease."

Dr. Ng-Cadlaon also dispelled the myth of scarlet fever as a stand-alone infection.

"Scarlet fever is not an infection. It is just the rash you have during strep throat," she said. "The rash may be uncomfortable, but it won’t kill you."

Common symptoms of childhood infections include diarrhea and vomiting. While these symptoms are very discomforting, the real risk comes when the child dehydrates from the loss of too much bodily fluids.

"There are several germs that can cause diarrhea and vomiting, with some worse than others," Dr. Ng-Cadlaon said. "If the child cannot keep fluids down, parents should take the child to the doctor immediately. Millions of children die all over the world because they don’t receive treatment for dehydration."

Other illnesses that require immediate medical attention include chronic coughing or wheezing or persistent nasal drainage, she said.

In addition to keeping your child physically healthy, emotional well-being is vital, Dr. Ng-Cadlaon stressed.

"Parents should keep their children busy no matter what their ages," she said, adding that sports activities, special classes, educational work or even a part-time job are important to keeping a child well-rounded.

"Television and video games should be cut down. You don’t have to stop your child from playing computer games, but there should be a balance with human interaction. Also, sitting down so much also can create physical complications, such as obesity."