Friday, August 07, 2009

School closings for H1N1? Not so fast, say federal health officials

The kids may not be too excited about it, but parents and school staff will probably be glad to know that schools might not need to shut down if there is an outbreak of H1N1 flu, formerly known as swine flu. Updated federal guidelines released today offer a range of options for dealing with H1N1 flu in schools, depending on how bad the flu is in the community.

The new guidance says “officials should balance the risk of flu in their communities with the disruption that school dismissals will cause in education and the wider community.” That means closing schools doesn’t have to be the first response if kids start getting sick. If H1N1 stays at the same level of severity we’ve seen, some of the other recommendations are:

*Stay home when sick: Students or staff members showing symptoms of flu should stay home at least 24 hours after fever symptoms have ended.
*Separate ill students and staff: Students or staff who appear to have flu symptoms should be sent to a room separate from others until they can be sent home.
*Hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette: Schools should emphasize the importance of the basics of flu prevention: Stay home when sick, wash those hands frequently, and cover noses and mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing (or a shirt sleeve or elbow if no tissue is available).
*Routine cleaning: School staff should routinely clean areas that students and staff touch. (Watch those door handles, gym equipment and keyboards! Yuk!)

If H1N1 gets worse this fall — with more cases of severe illness, hospitalizations and deaths — the guidelines say that schools should take additional actions.

The new guidelines are part of a national plan to deal with H1N1 flu, which includes encouraging people to get vaccinated and to take other actions to stay healthy. All of these steps are important because flu typically spreads more easily in the fall and winter. However, if we all do our part, we can minimize the spread of H1N1 in our communities.

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