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School Officials Cite Prevention in Curbing H1N1 Flu

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 12, 2009 – When it comes to H1N1 flu, the Department of Defense Education Activity’s primary focus is to prevent a serious outbreak in any of its 191 schools worldwide.

“First of all, awareness and prevention are the most important things,” said Frank O’Gara, the activity’s senior public affairs officer. “We’re not overly worried about it, but we’re concerned about it and we’re watching it and we’re tracking it.”

Individual DoDEA schools have been tracking their own cases since the start of the school year. Last month, officials requested that schools report their numbers to headquarters here.

Last week, 62 students and six staff members were out with flu-like symptoms. The week before, 56 students and six staff members were out. It’s unknown, however, if any of those cases are H1N1 flu, as the activity isn’t differentiating between the different strains of the virus since they’re treated with the same medication.

The second piece of the activity’s plan involves an aggressive program to promote good hygiene. This is a constant push, but it’s been ramped up as of late.

“The No. 1 thing that everybody can do is wash their hands, use [tissues] or cough in your sleeve,” O’Gara said, noting those are the measures recommended by officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mary Patton, DoDEA’s coordinator for pupil and personnel services, said the big push is on using soap and water to wash hands thoroughly.

“The principals are making sure that the soap dispensers are filled continually,” she said. “We do have [alcohol-based hand] cleaners in our schools, however the CDC says that in order for the hand cleaners to be effective, they need to be 60 percent alcohol, which is sometimes a problem with sensitive skin.”

But beyond soap and water, the school children are proving to be DoDEA’s greatest weapon in the battle against the flu.

“I saw a child say, ‘Do not sneeze in your hand! Sneeze in your armpit,’” Patton said. “He meant his elbow, but they know what they’re talking about.”

Students not only put pressure on each other, but also practice what they preach, greeting each other with fist bumps instead of shaking hands, she added.

“Kids used to say, ‘I don’t want your cooties,’” Patton said. “Now it’s, ‘I don’t want your germs.’”

As for what to do if a child exhibits flu-like symptoms, Patton said common sense applies -- they should be kept home. And if they start feeling bad while in school, Patton spelled out the protocol.

“Students are sent home any time they have a temperature of … over 100.6. That, or any time there are flu-like symptoms or bronchial type coughing,” she said. “Any time a child says they’re sick, and it’s obvious that they are sick, they’re sent home.

“If they can’t be picked up, they’re isolated,” she added.

Children should remain out of school until their symptoms are gone and they’ve been fever-free for at least 24 hours without the aid of fever reducers.

While DoDEA officials aren’t overly concerned about the onset of an epidemic in their schools, plans are in place should a school need to be shut down to prevent further spread of the flu.

“We’re in no way threatened by [a shutdown] at this point,” Patton said, adding that garrison commanders make the decisions to close the schools, not DoDEA. “But if it should happen, the schools now have a plan as to how they will [continue] to educate our students.”

Local military treatment facilities have information about receiving a flu vaccination seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccinations.

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Related Sites:
Department of Defense Education Activity
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Flu.gov


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