In April 2009, H1N1, also known as “swine flu,” began to circulate throughout North America. With many students having just returned to school from spring break vacations to Mexico, where the virus is thought to have originated, several outbreaks began to pop up in schools across the country. Many of these schools closed temporarily to disinfect the buildings.
While H1N1 certainly may be an eyeopener for parents and students, providing lessons on just how rampant infectious diseases can be in a school environment, flu viruses aren’t the only infectious diseases to be concerned about at school. Experts say that exposure to a variety of different infectious diseases in a school environment is inevitable, especially at the grade-school level.
The common cold, chickenpox, head lice, tuberculosis, mononucleosis (mono), and many other conditions can be expected in school environments. It’s important to be aware of the necessary actions to take to prevent the proliferation of disease in school. Consider these factors.
Teachers spend several hours per day with students and can typically be the first line of defense when an illness is suspected. They can view physical and behavioral changes that may indicate a student is not feeling well, especially when “symptoms” are compared against normal behavior for this particular student.
Signs of illness may include:
• Changes in appetite:The student may pick at food or want to avoid food all together.
• Behavior changes:Lethargy, irritability or lack of energy could indicate something is amiss.
• Skin color: Pasty skin color can indicate illness, as well as flushed skin. Eyes may also appear glassy or red.
• Fever: While teachers aren’t frequently engaging in personal contact with students, they may be able to detect a fever upon touching a student’s arm or hand. Hand-washing and use of hand sanitizers remains one of the best ways to reduce the spread and severity of diseases at school. Here are other steps students should take.
• A sick student should remain home from school until he or she is over the hurdle. While having a sick child home can be an inconvenience for working parents, it prevents other students from potentially getting sick.
• Students should not share eating implements, straws, etc. Saliva can spread any number of infectious diseases.
• Students should not share towels or other personal hygiene items after gym workouts. Also, it is safe to wear water shoes or some sort of flip-flop if using public school showers to clean off. The floor of locker rooms may be teaming with bacteria that could lead to foot fungus.
• Inspect children for head lice, especially if a case is detected at school.
• Teachers can offer a courtesy to parents when a contagious outbreak is detected in a class, such as posting a notice about strep throat, so they can choose whether it is safe to send kids to school.
• Students should be encouraged to eat healthy, balanced meals. A good diet can keep the immune system functioning properly to ward off common illnesses.
• Many schools mandate that students be up-to-date with required immunizations.