Children are among the groups most vulnerable to seasonal illnesses such as Norovirus and Influenza. This is the time of the year when these illnesses are at their peak. The colder weather allows the viruses that cause these illnesses to persist and people are generally spending more time indoors, closer together, which makes it easier for illnesses to spread.
Schools, of course, want to ensure a safe environment for pupils and staff. But they also need to achieve high attendance records so that nobody misses vital lessons or falls behind. Our “Are You Ready?” campaign helps schools implement simple but effective processes to keep children and staff safe.
Let’s look at some of the risks.
Pupils and Students: any outbreak will have significant consequences for pupils and students. Illnesses such as Influenza and Norovirus can mean time off school, missing vital lessons or special events only held at this time of the year. Those fortunate to have good health and strong immune systems will normally recover quickly. But for anyone who has an underlying health issue these illnesses can be life-threatening.
Attendance Rates: an outbreak can spread quickly in a school or college environment. An individual pupil’s attendance record will be affected but the overall total for the school will also stack up fast. While these absences are easily explained the headline figures will still show reduced attendance levels. More importantly, the disruption to normal classroom schedules means additional time and resources will be needed later to help pupils and students make up for lost time.
Bad Publicity: the run-up to Christmas should be a happy time for pupils, teachers and other staff members with lots of special events and parties taking place. Any outbreak – or even the suggestion of an outbreak – can be bad news at the best of times. Nobody wants to associate and remember a happy time with illness and suffering. Bad publicity whether through word-of-mouth, social media or the mainstream media can cause long-lasting damage to the school or college’s reputation which can be hard to win back.
Staff Shortages: if teachers or staff members become ill they will need time off. At this time of the year, it won’t be easy to find temporary replacements at short notice, especially if the person is highly skilled or experienced. Staff shortages place additional pressure on remaining team members. On top of this, staff who become ill can also spread their infections to colleagues and customers before they show any symptoms. This makes it doubly important to ensure all staff follow the best possible personal hygiene and food safety practices to minimise the risk of becoming ill.
Schools take infection prevention seriously at all times of the year. But during the peak Christmas and New Year season, additional vigilance will help provide the maximum protection against the risks. There is a clear and established link between the spread of illnesses, personal hygiene and surface cleaning. Around 80 per cent of illnesses are spread by personal contact or by touching a contaminated surface or object. Here are a few simple infection prevention steps to help schools avoid the risk of catching and spreading illnesses:
- Make sure all staff and pupils understand the risks of seasonal illness
- Check that cleaning staff understand the correct processes and products to use
- Everyone should wash their hands frequently, but especially after going to the toilet and before eating food
- Place additional portable and/or wall-mounted hand hygiene dispensers at convenient locations throughout the school
- Ask visitors to wash their hands when they arrive
- Give staff members their own personal bottle of hand disinfectant
- Choose hand disinfectants and hygiene products that are suitable for frequent use
- Clean frequent-touch surfaces such as door handles, light switches, portable equipment used by pupils and/or staff, touchscreens, tablets, table-tops as often as possible
- Use surface sanitisers that are simple, effective and suitable for a wide range of surfaces
- Keep a spill kit in a convenient location to deal with body spills quickly, easily and professionally so as to protect pupils, teachers and support teams