Children returning to school over the next few days are likely to find something new in their school bags along with packed lunches, pencil cases and text books – small bottles of hand sanitising liquid.
In an effort to raise awareness among parents, teachers and children about swine flu, health and education officials are spreading a message of hygiene and vigilance in an effort to control an expected surge in new H1N1 cases.
‘We have recommended that the Department of Education tell parents to add small bottles of hand sanitizers to their kids’ school kits for this year,’ said the Health Services Authority’s Medical Director Dr. Greg Hoeksema.
Health officials also advise teachers to keep packs of sanitizing wipes on their desks so they can regularly clean door knobs and computer keyboards.
Although reports of new cases of swine flu have levelled off in Cayman, and worldwide, there is fear that when schools reopen, there is likely to be a spike in new H1N1 cases as children spend long hours together.
Mr. Hoeksema said the number of confirmed cases in Cayman is around 100, but that the actual number of cases could run into the thousands.
He and Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kiran Kumar said Public Health met with education officials in recent weeks to formulate a plan to raise awareness among parents and teachers on how to tackle swine flu in schools.
The Department of Education is sending letters to parents asking them to keep their children at home if they become sick with fever over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and flu symptoms.
Mr. Kumar said all cases of flu are now being considered to be H1N1. He advised parents whose children have symptoms to keep them at home until 24 hours after their fever subsides.
‘If they’ve been sick for two days and on the third day the fever is gone without medication to bring the fever down, then you can send the child back to school on the fourth day,’ Mr. Kumar said.
He said school staff members that encounter children with fever and flu symptoms in the classroom should isolate the pupils from the general population until their parents collect them.
He also advises that children should be told to keep at least three feet away from people while coughing or sneezing.
Posters are being erected in schools to educate children on H1N1 and how to prevent its spread.
Some schools open this week, with the majority opening to all pupils on Monday next week.
No vaccination is available for H1N1, but is expected to be developed later this year. Mr. Kumar said the seasonal flu vaccination would be available in Cayman in October, but this would not prevent H1N1. People who receive the seasonal flu vaccination will also need to be re-vaccinated when the H1N1 inoculation becomes available.
He said the government will only consider closing schools as a last resort and this would be done in consultation with education and health officials.
Public service announcements will be played on radio and television and information on swine flu will be played before films in the movie theatre.
For more information on swine flu, contact the Health Services Authority flu email and message system at [email protected] or the 24-hour flu hotline 926-2812.