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Back to school in an H1N1 Influenza Pandemic


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Monday, August 24, 2009 - For the first time in 44 years, students will be returning to school after summer vacation, amidst a global influenza pandemic.

 

H1N1 influenza affects primarily younger persons. Most persons who acquire the disease have only mild flu- like symptoms, and recover at home within one week.

 

Some individuals, especially those with underlying medical conditions such as, asthma, sickle cell disease, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, HIV or any other disease which weakens the body's immune system, may develop more severe illness requiring hospitalization.

 

It should be noted however that in a release dated August 21, 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) indicated that the presence of underlying medical conditions will not reliably predict all, or even most cases of severe illness. Worldwide, around 40% of severe cases are now occurring in previously healthy children and adults, usually under the age of 50 years. Some of these patients experience a sudden and very rapid deterioration in their clinical condition, usually on the 5th or 6th day, after they begin showing signs of flu-like illness.

 

Parents are asked to remain alert for any sign of flu-like illness in their child. The child should be taken to see a doctor if there is any sign, such as sore throat, runny nose, cough, fever, headache, joint and body pains, belly pain, vomiting and or diarrhoea. Do not send the child to school if the child has any sign of flu-like illness.

 

To date, Saint Lucia has recorded no deaths due to H1N1 influenza. Worldwide, the death toll for H1N1 Influenza now stands at 1,896 and this number is expected to increase.

 

Recognizing that schools provide an ideal setting for the spread of flu like viruses, the Ministry of Education has to date, taken a number of steps to prevent or reduce the impact of H1N1 influenza.

 

These include:

  • Sensitization meetings through the entire school system
  • Distribution of pandemic influenza handouts (flyers, leaflets, etc.) to all schools
  • Commencement of influenza surveillance and monitoring of students for flu-like symptoms
  • Issuing of Parent Letter #1 for Pandemic Influenza
  • Increased infection control measures.
  • Continued communication between the Ministry of Health and Education

 

To date, H1N1 Influenza has been confirmed in 12 persons. All have recovered completely and half of those diagnosed and treated, have since returned to their country of residence. The virus has been confirmed in approximately half of the 8 health regions and there is evidence of community transmission. Consequently, in preparation for the reopening of school, the Ministry of Education is engaging in the following:

 

  • Planning meeting with Ministry of Health to develop strategy to contain the spread of the virus within the school system
  • Joint GIS presentation with Ministries of Health and Agriculture to further sensitize parents and provide parents with guidance on infection control measures
  • Meeting with education officers and principals to further H1N1 sensitisation
  • Distribution of educational posters on pandemic influenza
  • Development and strengthening of protocols at respective schools to engage in good hygiene practices
  • Increase surveillance for abnormal symptoms among students and teachers
  • Thorough cleaning of school premises
  • Institution of effective mechanisms for reporting abnormal flu symptoms.
  • Development and strengthening of protocols at the school level for managing suspected cases of flu-like symptoms among students.

 

All of us need to remain vigilant in our efforts to decrease the spread and impact of H1N1 Influenza.

 

This is what we should be doing now to protect ourselves from H1N1 Influenza.

  1. Cover your cough. Cough into tissue and place used tissue in a covered bin. If you have no tissue or napkin, cover your mouth with your sleeve.
  2. Wash your hands frequently. Hand washing helps prevent persons from acquiring the disease and prevents spread of infection.
  3. Visit a health practitioner if you have flu like symptoms.
  4. If you are ill with flu, do not go to school
  5. If you are ill with flu, do not go to work
  6. If you are ill with flu, do not go to mass crowd gatherings
  7. If you are ill with flu, remain at least 3 feet away from other persons and after seeking medical attention, remain at home for at least one week

 

For more information, please contact the:

Ministry of Health at: (758) 468-5309, (758) 468-5317, (758) 468-5318, (758) 468-5300

 

The Ministry of Education Influenza Plan is part of the National Influenza Plan and copies are available at www.tiny.cc/flu


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