Students thwart "Notorious Bug Thug" with flu prevention

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - "This notorious bug thug's grime spree must be stopped," said the voice on the monitor, as St. Martin North Elementary students looked and listened with amusement.

The "Bug Thug" is the flu virus.  During a classroom exercise Thursday, the flu went by a different name, Influenza Enzo, a bacterial mobster on a mission to make them sick.  Youngsters giggled, but the kid-friendly game carried a serious message that good hygiene can keep the flu bug away.

In the game, students helped a girl named Maria wash her hands by answering a series of questions about flu prevention.  Along the way, they learned six steps to proper hand washing.

"Influenza Enzo is hiding on her hands," the game said about Maria.  "He's hoping to make her sick before she has a chance to wash them.  Can you help her rinse Enzo down the drain before she gets sick?"

The American Red Cross, along with Singing River Health System and Gulf Coast Community Foundation, is bringing a video and interactive website to schools to teach children flu prevention.  The video on NSF International's Scrub Club website is designed to teach children to wash their hands and avoid spreading germs.

"We have an early and very aggressive flu season that is upon us now," Paige Roberts, Executive Director of the Southeast Mississippi Chapter of the American Red Cross said. "And that's why we're being so aggressive ourselves as community educators."

This year's flu season could be particularly rough on children, who seem to be more susceptible to the H1N1 virus that's already taken five lives in Mississippi.

After the game, the children had a chance to ask questions, and receive a few health pointers from staff and volunteers.

"Everyone touch your elbow," Molly Moses told a class.  "You can sneeze and cough into your elbow, ok?"

By the end of the blitz, Moses and other Red Cross staffers will have reached a total of 33,000 children in Jackson and George Counties.

"The children seem to really enjoy the presentation," said Kristal Webster, the Infection Prevention nurse at Singing River Health System.  "They had a lot of good questions and we were able to answer their questions."

Teachers like Janet Forehand appreciate the health.  Schools are doing all they can to teach healthy habits, but Forehand said it helps for outside parties to reinforce the message.

"Kids don't realize how easy it is to get sick," Forehand said.  "We're in such close quarters that when they're sneezing if they don't think about it, they're going to spread these germs, so its important to get the message out now."

They hope teaching kids these good habits now will pay off when flu season is at its worst.  At the end of each presentation, every child gets a Scrub Club membership card, and a pack of Red Cross tissues.  The campaign just finished its first week.  They estimate the entire blitz will take about nine weeks.

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