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Keeping Healthy This Flu Season

School Districts Take Precaution

A New school year can bring excitement as well as anxiety, but this year it also brings concern over the possibility of students and staff contracting the H1N1 or “swine flu” virus. The swine flu took hold during the last school year and it remains a possibility that people will continue to contract the virus.

While it’s natural for some children and staff members to become “under the weather” during the fall and winter, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have contracted swine flu. There is also the possibility that people can still contract the regular flu (commonly known as “Type A” flu), a common cold or other maladies that normally occur.

As a result, various health agencies are advocating for schools and families to follow precautions such as teaching children to thoroughly wash their hands and practice good respiratory hygiene when coughing or sneezing to reduce the spread of germs. Most important, students who are not feeling well are advised to stay home from school and be fever-free for at least 24 hours before returning.

“We’re urging common-sense practices, such as hand-washing and the use of hand sanitizers. We have hand sanitizers in the schools, and the custodians wash down the desks regularly,” said Westbury Superintendent of Schools Dr. Constance Clark-Snead. “But also, in keeping with the guidelines, students who are returning to school after being ill will be screened by the school nurse, and if there is a student whose temperature is 100 degrees or higher, they will be sent home.”

Additionally, in an effort to ensure that parents are made – and kept – aware, Westbury Schools will send letters home as well as provide updates on the district website (www.westburyschools.org). The website, said Clark-Snead, offers a link directing parents to important guidelines from the New York State Education Department and New York State Health Department. In addition, a county brochure regarding the H1N1 flu virus will be distributed in three different languages – English, Spanish and French. “The district has been really proactive in helping reduce the spread of the H1N1 Flu Virus, and has been in constant communication with parents regarding this,” she said.

According to Carle Place Superintendent W. Michael Mahoney, preventive measures put into place in April remain in effect while increased procedures to prevent the spread of germs – such as promoting hand-washing with soap and water, encouraging proper cough hygiene and the installation of hand sanitizers in key areas of the schools where soap and water are not close – have been implemented.

On Sept. 2, the district reached out to the community through an automated voice message offering basic information about the district’s H1N1 procedures; the information was also sent home in the form of a letter. According to Mahoney, the district’s primary means to reduce the spread of the virus is to focus on early identification of the students and staff who may be ill.

“We are working with our parent partnerships to make sure they take the proper steps in recognizing the virus and preparing a child-care home plan that can be put into place should their child become ill,” said Mahoney. “The district has been advised that people with influenza-like illness should stay home from school for at least 24 hours after they are free of fever signs or fever without the use of fever reducing medicines.”

Mahoney agrees with health officials who advise that the best way to reduce the spread of the virus is early identification for students as well as staff suffering from flu-like symptoms to stay home. “The district has been advised that people with influenza-like illness should stay home from school for at least 24 hours after they are free of fever signs or fever without the use of fever reducing medicines,” he said. “We are working with our parent partnerships to make sure they take the proper steps in recognizing the virus and preparing a child-care home plan that can be put into place should their child become ill.”

In a Sept. 1 letter sent home to parents, St. Brigid/Our Lady of Hope School Principal Paul P. Clagnaz stated, “We are concerned with the upcoming flu season and the possible effect it may have on the school community. The flu can be easily spread from person to person. Therefore, we are taking steps to reduce the spread of flu at St. Brigid/Our Lady of Hope School.”

Clagnaz advises parents to follow CDC recommendations, including teaching children to wash their hands often, cover their mouth when they sneeze or cough and refrain from sharing such personal items as drinks, food or unwashed utensils. Most importantly, parents are advised to not send children to school when they are sick and to keep them home for at least 24 hours after they have had a fever or signs of one and without the use of fever-reducing drugs.

“We want to keep the school open to students and functioning in a normal manner during the flu season,” said Clagnaz. “The flu can be easily spread from person to person. Therefore, we are taking steps to reduce the spread of flu at St. Brigid/Our Lady of Hope School … Keeping children with a fever at home will reduce the number of people who may get infected.”

The East Meadow School District’s website (www.eastmeadow.k12.ny.us) features a link to a downloadable brochure entitled Seasonal and Novel H1N1 Flu: A Guide for Parents, courtesy of the Center for Disease Control, as well as information from the Nassau County Department of Health advises parents and guardians the best ways to prevent spreading the virus. In a letter posted on the site, newly named Superintendent Louis R. DeAngelo stated that the district was in the process of installing hands-free soap dispensers and self-feeding paper towel dispensers in all bathrooms and hand-washing locations. Additionally, as a supplement to the hand-washing program, DeAngelo said the district would be installing hands-free, waterless dispensers in its computer and music rooms.

“The East Meadow School District has had in place and will continue to have in place significant cleaning/sanitizing procedures, which exceed routine level protocols,” said DeAngelo, adding, “Please be assured that the health and safety of our children and entire school community is utmost concern to us.”

Parents and guardians seeking additional information on the regular flu as well as H1N1 virus and the precautions that can be taken can visit www.flu.gov, www.cdc.gov, www.health.state.ny.us and www.nassaucountyny.gov/agencies/health.