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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Forget the scents and cackles, safety on Halloween is all about keeping your kids healthy

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It’s not only the flu that’s getting you. In the last month, 11,770 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus, including five children in Philadelphia, the most severe outbreak so far, and at least five deaths.

The pathogen, first identified in 1997 and named after a province in Afghanistan, has been linked to complications in people with chronic renal disease. It’s classified as a “backward killer,” meaning that infected people are likely to get sick again. That poses a particular problem for children, who may be especially susceptible as they move from spring to fall.

Scientists have recently been working on ways to inoculate kids before Halloween, and hope to start with kids in developing countries. But early findings show that for children who have lived with the virus for a long time, the procedure is effective, and is “right on,” so to speak, said Stephanie Duyck, a study co-author and epidemiologist at the University of Pennsylvania who studies germs such as coronaviruses.

“There has to be a vaccine for coronavirus to be used in the United States, and [the vaccine] has to be very, very safe,” Duyck said.

There are other dangers that might come with trick-or-treating, however. Some of the prescription drugs doctors prescribe, such as the epilepsy drug Depakote, can trigger seizures during anesthesia, and other drugs may damage the liver or nervous system, Duyck said.

“I would really encourage people to be super vigilant,” Duyck said. “Stay away from certain things … these are poisoners, and nothing is safe.”

She said that if a parent is concerned about their child overdosing on narcotics, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a plan: “put the patient in an alternate location for Halloween, or let them sleep on the couch.”

The Philadelphia outbreak has put the program on the map, but it isn’t the only warning out there.

Last year, a couple in Melbourne, Australia, were rushed to the hospital after the family visited a haunted house. And in 2016, a 10-year-old boy in Covington, Louisiana, collapsed on Halloween morning after a flu-like illness and a flu shot. Last week, a Michigan teenager was hospitalized and kept in a coma for 24 hours after he vomited blood.

“I think it’s even more important now because children tend to go out and play and be not so careful,” Duyck said. “We can try to keep them inside, and that will work for adults, but it’s going to be totally different for children.”

As with any infectious disease, you can minimize your risk by washing your hands and avoiding direct contact with sick people. However, the trick-or-treat tradition of going door to door for candy may make you overlook the bigger hazards, which may include pocket knives and balloons — “nothing that children have very much contact with,” Duyck said.

Understandably, some parents aren’t worried enough to avoid Halloween. But Duyck cautions that just because we can’t control where we get our candy, it doesn’t mean that we can’t reduce our exposure to human germs that could lead to common viruses, such as the flu.

Still, she offered some extra tips: If you are planning to give your child a bottle, give her one that is child-proof. Never give your child an empty glass to eat out of, as that can lead to a viral invasion and possible hearing loss. And don’t open wrapped candy first.

“No one wants to feel responsible, but something like that could be deadly,” Duyck said.

Watch WNYC’s report on what Halloween means to families in Philadelphia.

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