Family Flublog

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Schools and Pandemic Flu

Let's switch gears and talk about pandemic, not avian flu. Remember, pandemic flu will be potentially deadly and can pass quickly from one person to another, no birds required. The World Health Organization assures us that some form of pandemic flu is coming, they're just not sure when or what.

By the time the pandemic flu variety is clearly understood by epidemiologists in terms of what organs it affects and how deadly it is, it will be way too late for your community to act appropriately. But looking at the flu virus that caused the 1918 pandemic, we can certainly take some educated guesses about how the next one will behave, and act accordingly.

Check this site for more information on the 1918 pandemic: http://www.pandemicflu.gov/general/#history

Children catch flu easily and are a potent source for infecting the whole community by bringing pandemic flu home to their families. A child coming down with pandemic flu will spread it for up to two days before he feels sick. What can schools do to minimize this risk?

CLEAN HANDS
Alcohol-based cleansers are quick and easy to use and better than soap and water for killing flu virus, given the way most people wash their hands. (Squirt a small pool of cleanser into one palm and continue rubbing it over both fronts and backs and between fingers until the hands are dry. Takes about thirty seconds.)

Each child should get a squirt of this cleanser each time she enters the class room. An easy way to do this is for the teacher to give each child a squirt as the line goes past her coming in each morning and coming back from recess and lunch.

Each child should learn to get a squirt coming back from the bathroom. Doors should be opened with shoulders rather than hands if they have push plates instead of handles.

Children in line to go to lunch should get a squirt as they leave the class room.

Teachers are probably not going to be able to get a child not to touch his face, but cleaning the hands at the identified times will reduce the child's chances of infecting himself and others with virus from the playground equipment or other commonly touched items around the school.
Have the cleanser available for children to use if they know their hands are contaminated and prompt them to use it when you see that they need to (for example, picking up a used tissue off the floor to throw it away).

CLEAN LUNGS--it's all about spacing

A cough, sneeze or laugh spreads droplets into the air in a three-foot arc around your face. When the pandemic flu is a reality, it's time to rethink desk placement temporarily. Once the pandemic arrives, it will go through your community for six to eight weeks. For this length of time, desks will need to be far enough apart so that middle school and high school kids cannot touch their neighbors' noses, at the minimum. That's about three feet.

Younger children need this space, too. Two first graders touching knuckles at arm's length is a space of about three feet. Probably at their desks they have this space, but not standing in line and not sitting on the rug. Teachers will need to teach the children spacing for both lining up and rug work.

If a child in the class is coughing, she should be separated from the others as far as possible in a "coughing corner." In crowded classrooms that may not be possible, unless the teacher gets creative with the desks of students who are absent that day. At the very least, a cougher should have tissues and a sack to throw used ones in, with alcohol based cleanser available to clean the hands. Perhaps when pandemic flu is a reality in your community, any cougher should be immediately sent to the nurse's office.

GROUND-UP PLANNING

These simple ideas are an example of "ground up" planning rather than top down. Prevention of a flu disaster in your community depends on teaching the people of the community what they need to do, rather than waiting for definitive word from on high.

However, there is already word from on high that gives at least some guidance for schools:

http://www.pandemicflu.gov/plan/schoolchecklist.html


All classrooms need to take these precautions if they are going to work, so it's not enough for each teacher to implement changes in his own room, although that's certainly a place to start. We, as parents and teachers, need to be sure our school district is beginning to plan for the pandemic now, and certainly implementing these simple classroom changes now. By doing so we are not only helping to keep our children safe but protecting our families as well.