Flu Season Guidance for Schools

You’ve heard it your whole life: Every year, like clockwork, there are news reports about the impending flu season and how severe it’s going to be. Although we wish we could tell you that annual “flu scares” are mostly blown out of proportion, the alarming fact is that’s almost never the case. Flu season is indeed real, and the effects that the flu can have on your health and the health of those around you aren’t pretty.

Schools are traditionally known to be “hotbeds” for illnesses such as the flu, as children and young adults typically have not built a strong enough immune system to ward off many illnesses that hit us less regularly as adults. Also, people in schools tend to be grouped together in close quarters for extended periods of time, which substantially increases the chance of spreading contagious illnesses such as the flu.

This guide is meant to serve as a resource for students and school staff, as well as those who find themselves working with others in close quarters throughout the day. While medical advancements for treating the flu have come a long way since the beginning of the 20th century, the negative impacts of this disease on your health can still be particularly severe. Taking some time to review this guide should help you find out more about ways to stop the flu dead in its tracks.

What Is the Flu?

The word “flu” is actually a shortening of the medical term for the virus: “influenza,” or more specifically to the strain we will discuss in this guide, “seasonal influenza.”

Even though the flu is still something everyone should be careful of contracting, keep in mind that the virus is much less deadly than it was 100 years ago. In 1918, during the final stages of World War I, a flu pandemic broke out that infected more than 500 million people worldwide. Of these people, between 50 million and 100 million people died, which amounted to roughly 4% of the world’s population at the time.

These days, however, the mortality rate among flu sufferers has decreased dramatically since 1918, especially here in the United States. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact estimate of how many people may actually die from seasonal flu, particularly since there are several strains of the flu that exist worldwide, many of which are less common than others. The CDC (Center for Disease Control), currently estimates the number of flu-related deaths per year to be around 36,000. This may seem like a large number, but it only accounts for a very small percentage of the country’s population (roughly .01%).

We can thank advances in medical research for this decline in flu-related mortality, as well as the increasing effectiveness of flu vaccinations, which are available to almost everyone in the U.S. these days. Also, more young people are being educated on the importance of maintaining good personal hygiene, which is one of the best ways to avoid contracting and spreading the flu virus.

Seasonal flu typically crops up here in the United States between October and May, with the number of flu cases usually peaking around February. The virus is at its most powerful during cold weather, which is why it is prevalent during late fall, winter and early spring. Moreover, because people tend to spend less time outdoors during these months, chances that the virus could be transmitted to others who share the same indoor space increases quite a bit.

As you can see, mixing the flu with cold weather is truly a recipe for disaster, which is why this season is so often referred to as “flu season” by the public. Even though the probability of experiencing serious health complications as a result of contracting the flu is low, it is important to remain vigilant about protecting yourself from the virus. For more helpful information about the flu, the CDC provides an excellent resource on the flu and steps you can take to prevent it.

Flu Prevention and Management Tips for Students

As mentioned earlier, children and young adults are particularly vulnerable during flu season. This has to do with a variety of factors, which include their immune systems and hygiene (or lack thereof), as well as their close proximity to other students who may have contracted the virus. Below is some information about how students can prevent contracting the flu, as well as what to do in the event of an infection.

Young Children (Kindergarten through Elementary)

Children in this age group usually run the most risk of developing the flu, particularly if they have never been vaccinated against the virus. Very young students are typically less careful about following the rules of good hygiene, such as covering their mouths when they sneeze and washing their hands.

Despite several arguments against vaccinating young children (many of which are simply unfounded), making sure young ones receive all their recommended shots is one of the most important steps a parent or guardian can take in helping their child stay healthy during flu season. Not only do vaccinations help children ward off specific diseases, such as the flu, they also strengthen their immune systems against other illnesses or viruses that may come their way.

Should a young student contract the flu, it is important that parents or guardians bring their child to a doctor. Unlike adults, who in many cases might be able to ward off the flu without any sort of medical evaluation or advice, children who contract the flu are especially at risk without the guidance of a medical professional. If a child begins to present flu-like symptoms at home or at school, a doctor or school nurse should evaluate the child’s health and make the appropriate recommendations before the symptoms intensify.

Young Adults (Middle School through College)

Unlike young children, teenagers and young adults are typically less likely to experience flu-related complications. This is largely due to vaccinations they may have had as younger children or thanks to a stronger immune system — even the formation of good personal hygiene habits will make a world of difference. Even though their risk of complications are lower, adolescent boys and girls should take precautions in the event they start experiencing flu-like symptoms.

While a visit to a doctor couldn’t hurt in the case of a young adult who has contracted the flu, bed rest and lots of fluids are usually all they need to fight off the infection. Moreover, if a young adult has past experience with the flu, many of the symptoms may seem less frightening and more manageable than they might seem to a child who has never contracted the virus. This could have a positive impact on how a young adult psychologically adapts to the illness, which may work towards strengthening his or her immune system’s response to the flu.

If flu symptoms develop in a young adult, they should take precautions in order to not infect anyone else. These symptoms commonly include fevers, headaches, nausea, fatigue, coughing, and sore throat. There are several over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), that young adults can take to alleviate several of these symptoms. If these symptoms continue to get worse, however, a medical professional should be notified immediately.

Advice From the Experts

Thanks to the Internet, it’s easier now than ever before to receive sound medical advice from experts without leaving the comfort of your own home. While much of what you read online should not take the place of advice from your doctor, especially with regards to potentially serious medical conditions, it can help you find out more about health matters that concern you the most.

In the case of seasonal flu, there certainly is no shortage of expert advice on the web. This informative article by Wolters Kluwer Health provides an expert rundown of the various symptoms and treatments associated with the flu virus. The article also goes into some detail about other, less common, strains of the flu that you should be mindful of, such as H1N1 (swine flu) and avian (bird) flu.

In addition to the many resources and expert advice available online for self-diagnosing the flu, adults and children who have contracted the flu should take special care when out in public or among other people. Most experts agree that staying home from school or work when suffering from the flu is the safest way to prevent exposing other people to the illness. For more information on how you or someone you know can stop the spread of the flu virus, this excellent article posted by the CDC is a great place to continue your research.

Flu Prevention Power Is in Your Hands

Remember: the flu virus is contagious, and can spread quite easily indoors and through personal contact. Be sure to put forth extra effort to keep your hands washed and/or sanitized during flu season. If you happen to come down with the virus, strongly consider staying home instead of going to class or work. Aside from maintaining good personal hygiene, simply staying home when you have the flu is the best way to avoid spreading it to others.

We may never completely eradicate the flu virus, but the good news is that we are much more prepared when the virus begins rearing its ugly head. Thanks to advances in medical technology and public health education, the flu has gone from being a worldwide epidemic to a common but manageable illness. By being aware of your own health, as well as the health of those around you during flu season, you are already doing your part to stop the flu dead in its tracks.

04 24, 2013
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