Hannibal’s H1N1 Plans: Wash Hands, Stay Home, Stay Separate

If nothing else, Hannibal school students should have cleaner hands this year.

Regular hand washing is a key component of the district’s plan to try to keep down the spread of the H1N1 virus.  District officials discussed the plan Wednesday night at a public meeting attended by fewer than a dozen people.

H1N1 is a strain of flu that tends to target younger people.  It spreads much faster than other flu strains.  So far, H1N1-related flu has tended to have a mild-to-moderate impact on those who get it, but because there is no immunity to the virus in our bodies and no vaccine to prevent it yet, officials expect a more widespread outbreak of flu.

Hannibal Superintendent of Schools Mike DiFabio said hand washing was one point of a three-point plan that includes:

Hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, which involves regular hand washing, the use of hand sanitizing products, and teaching children to cough or sneeze into a tissue or into their shirt sleeve;

Staying home when sick, which involves parents making sure than an ill child does not come to school when sick and stays home until at least 24 hours after their temperature falls below 100 degrees without using medicines that reduce fever, and;

Separating and isolating ill students and staff, which involves staff members quickly spotting students who are showing symptoms of a flu-like illness and getting them to the nurse’s office.

DiFabio said that last item — separation and isolation — may be difficult for younger students.  Students showing a flu-like illness will be asked to wear a face mask and will be kept at least 6 feet from other people until someone comes to school to take the child home.

“They can expect us to isolate them,” DiFabio said.  “And they can expect us to try to get them home.”

DiFabio said the district will not close when it finds a case of H1N1.  The government’s no longer insisting on that. Instead, said DiFabio, “we are going to treat (H1N1) as if it was all the other flus.”

That means that the district will only close, he said, if school cannot be opened safely.  For instance, if too many bus drivers are out sick, or if too many substitute teachers are unavailable because of illness.

Any day school is closed for flu will be counted as if it was a snow closing day.

DiFabio said parents need to think about their own plans for dealing with the flu in their homes.  Do your children share a bedroom?  If so, how can you separate them if one gets sick?  Does a child go to day care?  DiFabio said parents should avoid taking an ill child to a child care center.

He also asked parents to let the district know if their child is home sick because of the flu.  The district reports its cases directly to the county Health Department, he said.

A vaccine will be available sometime this fall, experts believe.  DiFabio said the county is looking at setting up community vaccination clinics and has asked the school if it would be willing to host one.  He said the district hasn’t decided yet, but is leaning towards hosting a clinic, though not on a school day.

He said it’s likely students who wanted innoculations would have to have a parent present for the shot, to sign required forms.

DiFabio said the message about H1N1 is getting through.  He said he was helping with bus duty at Fairley Elementary School and saw students with boxes of tissues and hand sanitizer containers.  He said one young girl who got on the wrong bus was helped to the right bus, but said she had forgotten her backpack on the other bus.  Is there anything important in it, DiFabio asked her?  Yes, she said. Her hand sanitizer.

1 Comment

  1. And don’t forget to tell children how ‘long’ to wash hands. A quick glance under the fountain is not good enough, I have been told. To sanitize hands, a good idea is to sing Happy Birthday once, or even twice, or to go through the alphabet slowly. Then briskly rub the paper towel across hands, to further remove germs. This helps for MRSA, too.

    Most of us don’t wash our hands long enough.

    [Debbie: You’re absolutely right. In fact, that very suggestion — “Happy Birthday” times two — was mentioned at the meeting. I failed to put it in. I’m lucky to have readers who can remind me. Thanks! -Dave]

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