For most families, getting ready for the start of the new school year in September usually means transitioning from relaxed summer activities to planning ahead about schedules, school supplies, car pools, even lunchboxes. This year the planning also includes knowing the school rules on what to do if your child or a classmate develops swine flu (HlNl). Experts expect that there will be an increase this fall in HlNl flu cases, even before the usual flu season.

Keep in mind:

Children are quick to respond to the mood of their parents, so it’s important to transmit a sense of calm, control and knowledge of the facts.

Since the virus has been the focus of extensive news coverage, it is a good idea to open up a discussion with your children, whatever their age, even if they don’t bring the subject up.

Let kids know you think their questions are important. Be honest and realistic. Help children feel secure by assuring them that everyone – schools, doctors, government, and parents – is working to make sure that they don’t get sick. Keep the information appropriate for the age of the child and correct any misinformation or rumors they may have picked up from others.

Children may worry about their own safety and the safety of their family. Help them put things in perspective. When answering questions, rely on up-to-date information from the proper authorities including medical professionals and government officials.

New flu guidelines for schools

New guidlines were issued on August 7, 2009 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for grades kindergarten through 12.

Schools should remain open in most cases, even during flu outbreaks, with the decision to be made by local state and other health officials.  This policy is a change from previous recommendations that schools shut down when students became ill. Schools should create separate facilities to house sick children to prevent them from spreading infection before they are taken home.

Children with flu-like symptoms should be kept at home.

Children are allowed back to school 24 hours after their fever subsides (without the benefit of fever-reducing medication).

If the flu pandemic gets worse this fall, state and local health departments may change the guidelines and, require sick children to stay home for at least seven days.

CDC officials said that schools may become a center for administering the H1N1 vaccine, which is currently in development and won’t be available until mid-October at the earliest.

Guidelines for parents

The new recommendations emphasize the basic foundations of influenza prevention for children: stay home when sick, wash hands frequently with soap when possible, cover noses and mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing (a shirt sleeve or elbow if no tissue is available), keep hands away from mouth, eyes and nose, don’t share drinks or food or put toys or things in your mouth.

If your child gets the flu, keep her or him home for at least 24 hours after the last fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or more.

If a family member or child is sick with the flu, keep school-age brothers and sisters home for five days from the time the household member becomes sick.

Reduce the spread of the flu virus by having the sick family member wear a face mask and stay isolated from other family members as much as possible or by having just one family member be the caregiver for sick family members.

Parents of children under 5 or those at high risk (those who have diabetes, asthma or compromised immune systems) who become ill with influenza-like illness should speak with their health care provider as soon as possible. Early treatment with antiviral medications can reduce the severity of the disease.

If a child becomes sick with a common childhood illness such as a sore throat or stomach ache, he or she may worry unnecessarily. Assure him or her that their parents and doctors will take care of them. Children of different ages and personality styles will handle stresses in their own way. Be alert for signs that anxieties or fears may be getting in the way of a child’s ability to enjoy usual school and family activities. If a child doesn’t respond to normal reassurance consider consulting a mental health professional.

The CDC has a flu hotline you can call for more information: 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636).

Date Published: August 21, 2009