Infection Control in the School Setting
One of the goals of student health services is to assist students in maintaining a level of health that enables them to learn. Schools, by their very nature, can be considered incubators for many viral and bacterial infections. Young school-age children are still developing their immune systems and are more vulnerable to common infections. Children's natural affinity for each other and school activities promoting the values of sharing, cooperation and collaboration also add to the potential spread of infections. But there are things that everyone can do to help minimize the spread of viruses and bacteria:
- Hand washing: Hand washing is the single most important activity to decrease the spread of infections of all kinds. Studies have shown that school attendance, and therefore school success, can be positively affected by diligent hand washing. School Nurses promote good hand washing techniques in Muscogee County Schools through the use of hand washing classes/demonstrations, videos, posters and other educational materials. Parents and guardians can aid in developing good hand washing habits by encouraging hand hygiene at home.
- Stay home when sick: As a general rule, children are considered too sick for school if they have any of the following symptoms: Fever (temperature of 100 degrees or greater); Vomiting; Diarrhea; Widespread Rash; Difficulty Breathing/Struggling to Breathe. Children who have seasonal allergy symptoms (runny nose, red/itchy eyes, etc) or other seasonal cold symptoms can be sent to school.
- A runny nose is the way many children respond to pollen, dust or a cold virus. Minor cold or allergy symptoms should not be a reason to miss school. Many healthy children have as many as six colds per year, especially in the early school years.
- Coughing, especially if it is persistent during the day, can indicate a worsening of cold or allergy symptoms. It may be a sign of a secondary infection (sinusitis, pneumonia), which may require medical treatment. It may also indicate mild asthma. If your child’s cough is worse than you might expect with a common cold, you need to consult your child’s doctor. You should do so immediately if the child is not acting normal, has a fever, or has any difficulty breathing.
- Diarrhea and vomiting make children very uncomfortable. If diarrhea or vomiting are frequent or are accompanied by fever, rash or general weakness, consult your child’s doctor and keep the child out of school until the illness passes.
- Fever is an important symptom – especially when it occurs along with a sore throat, nausea or a rash. Your child could have a contagious illness, which could be passed to classmates and teachers. While you can treat the fever, and usually make the child feel better temporarily, the cause of the fever (and the risk of passing it to others) is still there. Children with fever should stay home until they are fever free, without the use of fever-reducing medication (Tylenol, Motrin, etc.) for 48 hours.
- Strep throat and scarlet fever are two highly contagious conditions caused by the same bacterial infection. Children may arrive with a sudden complaint of sore throat and fever, and often stomachache and headache. With scarlet fever, a rash usually appears within 12 to 48 hours. A child with these symptoms should see his doctor for diagnosis and treatment, and should remain out of school until he is without fever and has been on antibiotics for 24 hours.
- Pinkeye, or conjunctivitis, can be caused by a virus, bacteria or allergy. The first two are very contagious. The eye will be reddened, and a cloudy or yellow or green discharge is usually present. The eye may be sensitive to light. Consult with your child’s doctor if you suspect an eye infection. Again, the child should stay home until symptoms subside and he has been on antibiotics for 24 hours or until the doctor recommends the child return to school.
- Middle ear infections can cause great discomfort and often fever, but are not contagious to others. The child should see his doctor for diagnosis and treatment and should stay at home if he has fever or pain.
- Flu is a contagious virus that usually occurs between October and May. Symptoms include body aches, high fever, chills, congestion, sore throat, and, in some children, vomiting. The child should stay home until these symptoms improve, usually five to seven days. Consult your child’s doctor for treatment suggestions to make your child more comfortable.
- Impetigo is a staph or strep infection that creates a red, oozing blister-like area that can appear anywhere on the body or face. A honey-colored crust may appear on the area. It can be passed to others by direct contact. Consult your child’s doctor for treatment and length of time the child should remain out of school, especially if the area cannot be covered.
- Scabies and lice brought into a school can quickly produce an epidemic of itching and scratching. Scabies are tiny insects that burrow into the skin and cause severe itching. Lice are tiny wingless insects, like ticks, that thrive on the warm scalps of children and also cause itching. Both should be treated immediately, with advice from your child’s doctor. Children need to stay home from school until head lice are dead and until all nits or eggs are removed with a special fine comb, as MCSD has a "no nit" policy. Head checks should continue for 10 to 14 days. Caution your child against sharing combs, brushes, hats or other clothing. In the case of scabies children should stay home for 24 hours after treatment.
- Maintain Accurate Contact Information at School: If your child should become ill while at school, it is imperative that accurate phone numbers for the parent/guardian and an emergency contact be available in the school clinic. The school clinic worker, secretary, clerk or school nurse may need to reach you at any point during the school day to pick up a child who has become ill. Should your phone number change, or the phone number of any emergency contacts, during the school year ensure that you notify both the school office staff and the school clinic. Children should be picked up as soon as possible after becoming ill at school. Picking up sick children from school in a timely manner helps to prevent the continued spread of illness.