Team up with schools to fight flu season
By Julie Bean
This cold and flu season, kids are at risk of picking up more than just math and reading skills at school. The good news is that many school districts have been preparing for a potential pandemic influenza outbreak for a few years, so they're ready to tackle this year's challenging season, says Dr. Lani Wheeler, executive member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on School Health. "Most schools and school districts are doing a great job."
But as a proactive parent, you can look for specific things -- and take some vitally important steps -- to ensure your child's school is in the best possible position to keep cold and flu bouts to a minimum this year.
What to Look for
- School bathrooms should be well-supplied with plenty of soap and paper towels. A recent study found that washing hands without soap is virtually worthless in terms of fighting germs. Completely drying hands is also vital, as viruses are more apt to survive and multiply on a moist surface.
- Every classroom for young children such as preschoolers or kindergartners should have a sink so they can wash hands frequently. Critical hand washing times include before and after group play, outdoor play, snack time, lunch and bathroom breaks. If a classroom does not have a sink, the school should provide plenty of alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizers should be stored beyond the reach of young children because ingesting this substance could cause serious side effects.
- All students' schedules should allow plenty of time to wash hands on a regular basis, especially before lunch.
- Young children, and even middle school and high school students, should be reminded often by teachers to cough and sneeze into the inside of their elbow. This will help prevent the spread of colds and flu to other kids.
What You Can Do
- Attend the next Parent Teacher Association (PTA) meeting and share your concerns. Use this as an opportunity to connect with other parents and organize an email list of parents interested in health-related topics. Appoint one parent as the liaison between your group and the school nurse so information can be passed along quickly and efficiently.
- Check with your child's teacher to see if there is anything she needs. For example, the limited school budget may create a shortage of soap and germ-fighting supplies. To help, organize a fundraiser to pay for supplies. When it comes to their children's health, parents are almost always happy to assist.
- If you have the financial means, take a supply of extra strong tissues to your child's classroom. When kids blow their noses, it's important that the tissue doesn't rip apart. A broken tissue could allow germs from the nose to transfer to the hands. Once on the hands, germs can easily spread in a highly contagious environment such as a classroom.
- Confirm that your child's teacher and school have updated contact information for your family, including email addresses; home, work and cell phone numbers; and a backup emergency contact. In the event of a flu outbreak or school closure, you may need to be reached during the day. It's important that your child's school has all relevant information, especially if you have recently changed jobs or moved.
- Check your school's Web site for updates and information on flu-related news. Make sure you are always up to date on communications from the school.
- Gather a list of school faculty contact numbers and resources. If an outbreak occurs, you won't have time to scramble for contact information.
- Make sure your child's school has an action plan in place and is prepared for an outbreak. The school nurse or principal can typically answer your questions or concerns. Schools should communicate with the local health department to determine school closures and be prepared to separate students and staff members who exhibit flu-like symptoms while at school. If no plan is in place, contact your local health department so its representatives can work with your school nurse and administrators.
- Talk personally to your child's teacher and make sure he or she is prepared to provide parents with at-home assignments for students who have to miss more than a few days of school.
Every school is bound to be hit by one or more outbreaks, but being prepared and working closely with teachers and administrators can help make this flu season go by with as few sniffles as possible.
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