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Are You Ready if Swine Flu Arrives at Your School?

The responsibility also lies with parents and kids to prevent transmission of the virus in school. The H1N1 virus primarily spreads through contact with germs from coughing and sneezing. Since kids in school spend so much of their day in close contact with dozens of peers in the classroom, not to mention hundreds of others in the hallways, cafeteria and playground, it's easy to see how quickly the virus can propagate.

Step one in preventing the spread of swine flu is to teach your kids to cover their noses and mouths when they cough or sneeze. Using a tissue is ideal, but if none is available then kids should cough into their shoulders or upper arms, not into their hands. It's also a good idea to wash hands after sneezing and coughing, using soap and water. An alcohol-based hand sanitizer will also work in a pinch.

Keeping hands clean is important for another reason: The H1N1 virus can live for a short period of time on surfaces such as doorknobs, tabletops, pencil sharpeners, and other germ hot spots. Washing your hands can help prevent picking up the germs and passing them on to others. Also, it's important to remind kids to keep their hands away from their faces, especially the mouth and eyes. It's easier for germs to penetrate a body's defenses in those vulnerable areas.

When to Stay Home

One tricky subject for parents is when to keep a sick child home from school. Because of the high transmission rate of the swine flu, it is better to be safe than sorry. You and your kids should watch out for the symptoms of swine flu, which include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
Most people will recover from the illness without need for medical attention, but if the symptoms are severe or the patient is at risk for further complications, it is a good idea to seek care.

Dr. Martha Howard of ChicagoHealers.com identifies the following symptoms as warning signs that your child needs medical care:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish or gray skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
For most cases of the swine flu, the more important concern is to avoid spreading the illness, not the illness itself. The CDC recommends staying home for seven days after symptoms begin, or until you have been symptom-free for 24 hours, whichever is longer. That may be a long time to keep your child out of class. Call the teacher to see if you can pick up your child's work in order to stay current with the curriculum. You can also visit our swine flu resource page for activities to help your child learn at home.

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