Have you seen all the stories about the seriousness of the flu this year and the school closures? For February’s Ask Nancy, we break down precautions against flu and resources for prevention.
How can schools protect students and faculty from the flu?
The most important action anyone can take – get this year’s flu vaccination! It’s not too late. Never mind the stories about the efficacy of this year’s flu shot. Because of the nature of influenza viruses, there is always variability in response. BUT, even if you do get influenza the immunization will help lessen the severity.
The best precautions against flu are
- Get vaccinated
- Stay home when sick
- Cover your cough/sneeze – try to stay at least 3 feet from people who are talking/coughing
- Wash hands with plain soap and water
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth
The primary means of transmission of flu and colds is through respiratory droplets. Staying home when sick, keeping some distance from coughing people (who must cover their coughs!) and good building ventilation will all help.
Should schools close to prevent the spread of flu?
School closures are almost never necessary. If you have concerns about increasing numbers of ill students and staff, call and discuss with your local health jurisdiction’s communicable disease staff.
What about the over-the-top cleaning being shown on the news?
It’s not necessary. You need to follow your standard cleaning and sanitizing/disinfection program. Plain, unscented soap and water for desks. Clean and then disinfect high touch surfaces, toilets, sinks, drinking fountains. Use alcohol wipes on electronics. Flu viruses are fragile – soap and water scrubbing will remove/kill them. Flu viruses will not survive overnight on surfaces, they are only infective for 2-8 hours. Spraying anything in the air is not wise, necessary or recommended. It will result in eye, nose, throat, and skin irritation, headaches, and aggravated allergies and asthma.
Choose registered sanitizers and disinfectants that have the EPA’s Design for the Environment label and cleaners with the EPA’s Safer Choice label. Teachers and students should not be using any type of disinfectant spray or wipe in school and they should not be on the student supply list. If teachers or students want to clean they should use unscented, plain soap and water. Disinfection should be done by trained custodians. Hand sanitizer should not be on the back to school list, and neither should white board markers. Avoid quaternary ammonia and bleach products.
What about hand sanitizers?
If there is no access to soap and water, alcohol based (60% or more) plain unscented hand sanitizer should kill flu viruses if enough is applied and the hands stay wet for a minute. It doesn’t work on dirty hands and hand-washing is still better.