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Preparing Schools and Businesses for Influenza

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The CDC is calling the fast-spreading, pandemic version of H1N1 influenza ("Swine" Flu) "Novel" H1N1 and have provided special separate Web pages for this variety.

This is where you go for information intended for school administrators from K-12 through higher education (which includes universities and trade schools.

H1N1 shouldn't be a big problem if you are prepared - the trick is to get ready because supplies will be in short supply later in the year.

Planning along with simple preparation is basic - just treat it like seasonal flu but bear in mind that, unlike seasonal flu, which is most dangerous for older and immune compromised elders, this variant of pandemic H1N1 has the highest mortality rate for those under 25.

Here are some basic suggestions for schools and perhaps even businesses if they can telecommute.

Plan for possibly closing down for a week or two if your area becomes a hot spot for the flu.

Plan for absence of key personnel.

Make certain there are plans if students get sick and have to stay at home in much larger numbers than is normal.
The H1N1 threat is real in the Southern Hemisphere so should hit us hard soon; many schools now in session already report cases.

To prevent spread if there is an active spread of influenza in your area (seasonal or H1N1), staff and perhaps students should use N-95 dust masks if anyone seems infected - these are not the simple masks you see on TV in Mexico, but a real respirator for particulates. They are common, actually what NASCAR crews use. There are online sources if you can't get them locally.

I would suggest stocking up on extra hand wash, especially a few bottles of hand sanitizer. Alcohol-based sanitizers are much easier to use and it is simpler to get people, even kids, to use them every time they pass a dispenser.

Do NOT use anti-bacterial soap, not only is it bad for the environment (they are mutagenic) but they are worthless against a virus except in so far as they include soap. Thorough hand washing is useful but difficult to do every few minutes in a school or office.

In schools it might be practical to have every student (AND TEACHER) routinely use the sanitizer on the way into each class during the day.

In offices or schools have someone go through and Lysol all door knobs several times/day, wash appropriate "touchable" room surfaces and perhaps desks once a day.
MAKE CERTAIN that the cleaning staff is very careful and not coming to work when sick themselves.

It is tempting to try and shortchange workers for sick time, but this year especially it is important to keep sick people home - in the long run it can be mean the difference between keeping a business or school open and closing down for a week.

Track flu infections at:

http://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/usmap.htm

Guidelines for schools (also useful for parents who want to make certain proper preparations are being made.

http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/schools/

Finally, it might be a good idea in schools for every instructor to go over the basics without alarming students.

Holding an assembly would probably be a bad idea, increasing the chance of spreading any infections.

At work it would be useful to make an announcement to employees about your policy and plans well in advance so they can plan for their families and work situation.

John McCormick is a reporter, /science/medical columnist and finance and social commentator, with 17,000+ bylined stories.

In addition, he has been a local emergency management coordinator in several areas and has advised schools, businesses, and municipalities on influenza preparedness.

Contact John through NewsBlaze.

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