Flu season is back. How can you help students stay healthy? The answer is not surprising. All of the common-sense methods, from handwashing to vaccinating to thorough cleaning, still work best. Here's the four ways to keep students healthy during flu season.
What is Flu and How Does it Spread
Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza A or B virus. It shows up in early winter and lasts all season long, often into the spring. Symptoms hit fast and can include high fever, body aches, fatigue and weakness. In some cases, the virus can lead to life-threatening illness like pneumonia.
Flu spreads through droplets sneezed or coughed by an infected person. The virus in the spray can infect healthy people within a six-foot radius of that sneeze or cough via mucus membrane exposure, i.e. the eye, nose or mouth.
But that coughing, sneezing, sick person can infect others even if the room was empty. Large droplets quickly settle out of the air and land everywhere. Yes, everywhere from the floors, walls, windows, tables and countertops to the desks, computer keyboards, light switches and sink taps.
And there the virus waits. Flu.gov reports that influenza A can survive on hard, nonporous surfaces for 24 to 48 hours. Add another 24 hours of life if that surface is moist or wet, like in a locker room or shower. Porous materials do a little better. The virus can only survive on paper or cloth for eight to twelve hours.
Touch those infected surfaces and you've touched the flu. Now rub your eyes, touch your nose or put a finger in your mouth and have the flu.
What Can You Do?
There are ways to combat this illness. Here's some easy tips.
- Get a Flu Shot: A flu vaccine is the best way to protect students and their families during flu season, according to Children's Hospital Los Angeles. The CDC estimates that flu vaccines reduce the risk of illness by between 40-60% in the overall population. And no, you can't get the flu from the flu vaccine.
- Keep Sick Kids Home: The CDC states that you can infect other people with the illness one day before symptoms appear and seven days after getting sick. That means sending sick students to school to power through endangers other students, teachers and staff.
- Wash Your Hands: Clean hands save lives, according to the CDC. They suggest five steps: wet, lather, scrub, rinse and dry. If soap and running water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol.
- Clean Your Environment: Despite its powerful symptoms, the flu virus is actually very fragile. Normal, everyday cleaning and disinfecting is enough to reduce the number of pathogens on surfaces. Even pandemic strains of influenza, which are different than the seasonal varieties, can't stand up to regular cleaning.
Cleaning the Right Way to Combat Flu
Tip number 4 is great news for schools, kinda. Elementary schools have often been called the Germiest Buildings in America. Middle and high schools fare a bit better, thanks to the better hygiene practices of older kids. But to protect all students from the flu your cleaning protocol must be thorough and performed regularly.
When cleaning to prevent flu consider touchpoints first. Touchpoints are anywhere students, teachers and staff put their hands. The list, as you might suspect, is long: desks, light switches, computer keyboards, door handles, bannisters, microwave buttons, door jams, pencil sharpeners, window sills, faucet and drinking fountain taps and toilet flushers are all common touchpoints that need attention.
Encourage the school population to use disinfecting wipes on communal touchpoints throughout the day. After class is out, clean and disinfect appropriate touchpoints with the KaiVac No-Touch Cleaning system. This technology combines automatic chemical metering and injection, an indoor pressure washer, and a powerful wet vacuum into an integrated system, which is proven to be up to 60 times more effective in reducing bacterial contamination than mops.
Clean desks tops, table tops and restroom partitions with KaiFly. This squeegee system removes bio pollutants quickly and thoroughly. Studies show KaiFly removes 80 times more bacteria than standard wipes and clothes.
And don't forget the floor. Not normally considered a touchpoint, the floor collects its share of infected droplets throughout the day. Drop a pen or notebook, pick it up and the floor has become a touchpoint. For younger students who spend a lot of their day sitting on the ground, the floor is an actual touchpoint.
Don't try to remove flu from the floors with a mop and bucket. That technology mostly spreads dirt and pathogens around. Instead use your No-Touch Cleaning system to combat flu. The technology cleans, disinfects and leaves floors dry and ready to use.
Amy Milshtein covers design, facility management and business topics for a variety of trade publications and consumer magazines.
Her work has won several awards, most recently a regional silver Azbee Award of Excellence.
She lives in Portland, OR with her family and Clyde, a 15-lb tabby cat. Once an avid hiker, these days she finds herself on the less-challenging -but-still-exciting 'creaky knees' trails.