Keeping Schools Safe from the AH1N1/Swine Flu Virus.
The Department of Health (DOH) has confirmed that the dreaded AH1N1 or Swine Flu virus has made its way to Philippine shores. Despite protective measures taken in airports and other ports of entry to our country, it is frightening to know that we no longer can claim to be free of the virus. According to reports, a 10-year old child who returned from travelling with her family to the US and Canada, tested positive for the virus. Further reports indicate that she is recuperating well while under strict quarantine.
This is especially concerning now that classes are but two weeks away.
Aside from placing ourselves in a sterile bubble, what can we do? More importantly, what should schools do to safeguard their students and faculty from acquiring the illness?
1. Strictly enforce a “do-not-come-to-class-if-you-are-sick” policy. While most kids love to be absent for any reason, often times they are forced to go to school because of the concerns their parents may have about what they would miss in class. While absenteeism is indeed a contributing factor to low grades, sometimes it is more logical to have kids stay home from school especially since they are often contained in one room where they are in close contact with twenty-five or more other students. Teachers can provide supplemental activities for students who are absent, thus allowing them to keep up with the demands in class.
2. Teachers should keep a bottle of alcohol or hand-sanitizer handy at all times. Albeit handwashing is still best, sometimes it is not accessible or feasible at an instant! For example, in my toddlers class, sometimes lining up twelve 2-3 year olds is not so easy, especially since I am a stickler for “no yaya in the classroom”. As an alternative FOR THE MEANTIME while the others are lining up, I use alcohol or sanitizer until I get them to a sink to wash. Having this handy is also helpful as it is easily accessible after a child sneezes or what-not.
3. Keeping tissues nearby is also a big help! I personally am not a big fan of hankies, I prefer tissues. This may be different for others. I find that tissues are better because it is disposable, whereas if I use a hanky to wipe my students’ nose, I kinda keep the germs on hand, right? Correct me if I’m wrong though Bottom line, it’s a preferrence.
4. Teach students the proper way of handwashing. I think a lot of us are guilty of washing our hands too quickly Reminding the kids (and ourselves) that we should wash our hands with soap for about 20 seconds in running water. If possible, use liquid soap as bar soaps are often breeding grounds for viruses and bacteria. After washing, drying hands with a disposable paper towel is recommended. For younger kids, having a timer with a bell or something similar to that can help mark how long they should, as I call it, “rub and scrub” their hands.
5. Teachers and parents can also benefit from reading articles about the illness so they can be aware of the signs and symptoms of infection. According to the World Health Organization “Early signs of influenza A(H1N1) are flu-like, including fever, cough, headache, muscle and joint pain, sore throat and runny nose, and sometimes vomiting or diarrhoea”.
6. For those working with young children, it would help to get to understand their language. Sometimes we do not understand what they mean by “ouchie”. Perhaps we also don’t know that they are experiencing muscle and joint pains, as we don’t see or feel it, unlike when they have a fever. Being able to ask them what hurts and what they mean by this “hurt” can definitely clarify things.
7. Air out and sanitize classrooms after it is used. Germs can remain in stagnant air, so allowing a classroom to “breathe” after classes can be a good way to expel these germs. This is especially true for classrooms with airconditioners running during class hours. Usually what happens after the janitors/cleaners are done with fixing up the room, the door is closed till the next day.
8. Consider getting vaccinations against the flu/pneumonia. I believe that as a teacher, I should be responsible enough to ensure that I do not inadvertently infect my students, this is why I chose to get the flu vaccine. While this will not keep you protected against the AH1N1 virus, you can help keep your immune system at par with all the viruses we are exposed to.
9. Eat healthy. As with the previous suggestion, keeping our immune systems healthy can be good ways to keep us safe from infections. Loading up on nutritious food with lots of vitamins and minerals is one way we can keep ourselves healthy.
10. Lastly, be vigilant. Watch out for what is going on around you. By being aware of subtle changes in behavior in children is key. Often times before the onset of illnesses parents and teachers note some form of change (i.e. appetite, activity level, sleep) in the kids. These may signal the start of the body’s attempt to fight off infections.
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