Health: Schools on high alert for deadly virus

Many schools have prioritised hand washing.

New Zealand – along with the rest of the world – is on high alert to identify and contain the spread of coronavirus. The advice from our health experts is don’t panic and take sensible steps to minimise the risk of infection. 

Schools here and in other countries recognise the risk of a virus spreading and have issued guidelines to help prevent illness. These steps are especially prudent with the coming onset of our flu season.

Hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is the most effective way to contain the spread of illness and disease, including COVID-19.

Many schools overseas have prioritised hand washing when students arrive at school, anytime they have used the restroom, and prior to lunch.

Staff are reminding students to not touch their face, nose, or mouth, to sneeze into a tissue or elbow, and reduce physical hand contact.

If regular hand washing isn’t possible, the next best option is to use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser or sanitiser wipes, with at least 60% alcohol – although these might be in short supply due to recent panic buying.

Staff have also been been directed to prioritise and increase frequency of cleaning common and high traffic areas during the day, which normally would be cleaned only once a day.

Focus is on bathrooms, lunchrooms, common spaces, railings, door handles, computer keyboards, toys in a kindergarten classroom and seats on school buses. For a suggestion on the most suitable type of wipes to use currently available in NZ please see article 2 in this Magazine.

Avoiding illness

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick, and keep children home from school when they are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Don’t share drinks.

While coronavirus mimics many of the symptoms of seasonal flu there are several differences.

For instance, people who have been infected with influenza but are not yet showing symptoms drive a lot of the spread of that virus. WHO officials have said that, based on data from China’s outbreak, only a tiny fraction of infected people do not show symptoms.

And,  Covid-19 generally seems to lead to more severe disease than seasonal flu strains, in part because people have no immune protection against the new virus and there is no vaccine.

Influenza is a virus that spreads quickly from person to person. Symptoms include fever, chills, aches, runny nose, a cough and stomach upset. Immunisation is your best defence against the flu.

The vaccine is usually available from April until the end of December, but is recommended before winter.