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Schools update flu plan

Published 11:46 pm Friday, August 14, 2009

With students prepared to head back to school next month and the H1N1 flu virus (swine flu) still spreading, school officials took time Thursday to discuss the division’s pandemic flu plan.

“We’ve begun work on the plan to reflect changes recommended by the CDC [Centers for Disease Control],” Kevin Alston, assistant superintendent for administrative services, told the School Board Thursday.

The division’s prior plan addressed avian flu, seasonal flu and other types of pandemic illness. The update was required after a new strain of flu spread quickly last year, killing hundreds and sickening thousands around the globe.

A letter emphasizing the importance of teaching children good hygiene and keeping them home if they are sick will be sent home the first day of school, Alston said. In addition, maintenance staff will adopt a ramped-up cleaning schedule for frequently-touched surfaces, Alston said.

Hand sanitizing stations will be located in each school, although children will be taught washing with soap and water is a better option, Alston said. Staff will be instructed to carve out time for children to wash their hands more frequently, and students will be taught to cover coughs and sneezes.

The latest recommendations from the CDC indicate that staff and students with flu-like illness 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 medications. They also should stay home if they are taking antiviral prescriptions. Students and staff who become ill at school should be separated from others until they can go home.

Although some school districts in the country canceled school temporarily during the spring outbreak of the disease, the CDC cautions against dismissing students in its updated report. Although school should be dismissed when there is a definite risk, administrators should take into consideration the negative effects of school dismissal, the report said.

“Based on the experience and knowledge gained in jurisdictions that had large outbreaks in spring 2009, the potential benefits of preemptively dismissing students from school are often outweighed by negative consequences, including students being left home alone, health workers missing shifts when they must stay home with their children, students missing meals, and interruption of students’ education,” the report says. However, it goes on to say, “the overall impact of 2009 H1N1 should be greater than in the spring, and school dismissals may be warranted, depending on the disease burden and other conditions.”

The CDC reports a vaccine against the new strain of flu should be available soon. Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent Milton Liverman said Thursday the schools could be used as mass vaccination sites if needed.