By Dr. John W. Jordan
Interim State Superintendent of Education
As the school year ended last spring, there were a few reported cases of Novel H1N1 (swine flu) in school districts. The majority of school districts escaped the final days without reporting a case.
Now that we are a couple of weeks into the new school year, the message from the Department of Education (MDE) and the Mississippi Department of Health (MSDH) remains the same. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and they key to prevention is preparation.
Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have drastically changed since the spring. For instance, if a child were confirmed to have a case of the swine flu, the CDC previously recommended that schools close to prevent the H1N1 virus from spreading. However, the CDC revised its guidance when officials at the CDC determined that the better way to prevent the spread of the flu was to keep those who showed symptoms away from others and let well students continue to attend school.
While swine flu can be very serious, the strategies to help prevent the spread of the virus have not changed. MDE continues to provide districts with information to help them keep their schools clean and parents and teachers informed on how to keep children healthy.
The following tips were recently sent to districts and parents as a reminder of the best advice from health officials:
- Basic infection control in school settings should always be promoted and maintained.
- Stay home when sick-Those with flu-like illness (fever, cough, sore throat, body aches and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea) should stay home for at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever, or signs of a fever, without the use of fever-reducing medicines. Students should stay home even if they are using antiviral drugs.
- Separate ill students and staff-Students and staff who appear to have flu-like illness should be sent to a room separate from others until they can be sent home. CDC recommends that they wear a surgical mask, if possible, and that those who care for ill students and staff wear protective gear such as a mask.
- Hand hygiene-CDC recommends that students and staff be encouraged to wash their hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. If soap and water are unavailable, alcohol hand sanitizers may be used instead.
- Respiratory etiquette-CDC recommends covering the nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing (or a shirt sleeve or elbow if no tissue is available) and throwing the tissue in the trash after use, followed by hand washing.
- Routine cleaning-School staff should routinely clean areas that students and staff touch often with the cleaners they typically use. Special cleaning with bleach and other special cleaners is not necessary.
This and other swine flu information can be found by going to the MDE Web site at www.mde.k12.ms.us, and clicking on H1N1 Flu Information Center. This site is dedicated to providing information about the Swine Flu to school staff, parents, students and others. It's an easy point to access all H1N1 Flu information.
MDE continues to update our website with information from the CDC and other health organizations. We have asked districts to report flu-like symptom cases to the department weekly and an update of the number of students reported to have flu-like symptoms can also be seen on our Web site.
Lesson plans and corresponding activities for teachers in grades K-8 to use to help students learn how they can help prevent the spread of germs are also posted on the Web site. Keeping schools clean and teaching children proper hygiene will provide a strong defense against H1N1 flu and other illnesses.