October 28, 2009

Get the facts on H1N1

Source: NYSUT Communications

What are the H1N1 symptoms?

Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. In addition, some may experience diarrhea and vomiting.

Why should schools and colleges be so concerned?

Schools and colleges, by their very nature, may serve as a point of contact for the virus. Students can easily spread the flu to other students, staff and their families. It is especially worth noting, too, that the largest number of H1N1 cases in 2009 has been in people between the ages of 5 and 24-years-old. Because of this, employer pandemic flu/H1N1 plans may include issues around leave policies, essential personnel, and protection of employees who have contact with students with known or suspected flu infection. It's critical that unions be involved in the planning process.

Are there any certain students or staff who may be at special risk?

Anyone can get the flu (even healthy people), and serious problems from the flu can happen at any age. However, children under the age of 5 years, pregnant women, people of any age with chronic medical conditions (such as pulmonary disease, including asthma, diabetes, neuromuscular disorders or heart disease), and people age 65 years and older are more likely to get complications from the flu.

How is the H1N1 virus spread?

The flu virus spreads from person to person in droplets produced by coughs and sneezes. It can also be spread by touching something - such as a surface or object - with flu viruses on it and then touching your mouth or nose. Therefore, it is important that students and staff use proper respiratory etiquette by covering their mouths and noses when coughing or sneezing with a tissue. Tissues should then be immediately disposed of properly. If no tissue is available, it is recommended the inside of the elbow or shirtsleeve be used. Hands should not be used to cover your mouth or nose. Also, it is also important to wash hands after handling a dirty tissue or other soiled material.

Is there an H1N1 vaccination available?

An H1N1 vaccine is currently in production and being distributed as it becomes available. The CDC says priority for the vaccination is being given to pregnant women, children and young people ages 6 months through 24 years (infants under 6 months cannot be vaccinated).

Who else should receive the vaccination?

It is also recommended that people who live with or provide care for infants under six months of age receive the vaccination, as well as: People ages 25-64 years old who have medical conditions that put them at higher risk for flu-related complications (including cancer, blood disorders, chronic lung disease, asthma, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disorders, liver disorders, neurological disorders, neuromuscular disorders, and weakened immune systems); and health care and emergency medical services personnel. Members are advised to consider getting both the seasonal flu vaccination and the H1N1 vaccination.

Gov. Paterson's declaration of a state of emergency authorizes an expanded group of professionals to administer vaccine.

What can families, students, and school personnel do to keep from getting sick and spreading flu?

The most effective ways are: Practicing good hand hygiene; adhering to proper respiratory etiquette; keeping oneself healthy (good nutrition, sleep and exercise) and staying home when you are sick. Students, staff, and their families must take personal responsibility for helping to slow the spread of the virus by practicing these steps.

What is considered appropriate hand hygiene?

Proper hand hygiene by students and staff is an important tool in combating the spread of the H1N1 virus. The best hand hygiene is traditional hand washing (with soap and warm water, lathering for a minimum of 20 seconds). If soap and water are not available, alcohol-based hand sanitizers (60 percent alcohol or greater) can help. If alcohol-based products are not allowed in the school, other hand sanitizers that do not contain alcohol may be useful for cleaning hands. However, they may not be as effective as alcohol-based sanitizers unless there is evidence that they kill germs and bacteria as effectively as alcohol-based cleansers

Can the virus live on surfaces, such as computer keyboards?

Yes, flu viruses may be spread when a person touches droplets left by coughs and sneezes on hard surfaces or objects and then touches his or her mouth or nose. However, it is not necessary to disinfect these surfaces beyond routine cleaning if they are not usually disinfected More important is to clean surfaces more frequently. Some states and localities have laws about specific cleaning products used in schools. School officials should contact their state health department and department of environmental protection for additional guidance.

How long should a sick student or staff member be kept home?

In the current flu conditions, students and staff with symptoms of flu should stay home for at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever (100° F [37.8°C]), or signs of a fever, without using fever-reducing drugs. In health care settings the exclusion period should be continued for 7 days from symptom onset or until the resolution of symptoms, whichever is longer. Extended exclusion periods may also be considered in any place where a high number of high-risk people may be exposed, such as childcare facilities for children less than 5 years of age. Sick people should stay at home, except to go to the doctor's office, and should avoid contact with others. Keeping people with a fever at home may reduce the number of people who get infected. Because high temperatures are linked with higher amounts of virus, people with a fever may be more contagious.

If I miss work for a prolonged period due to illness or to care for an ill family member, will I be assured of job, pay, benefit and other work protections?

Collective bargaining rights must be respected. The federal government has asked employers to be more flexible in their sick leave policies, but you need to talk to your union leaders to make sure that your job is secure in case of prolonged absenteeism due to your illness or taking care of a sick family member. Workers should not suffer loss of pay, benefits or other rights due to reasons related to the outbreak. Honoring contract rights is also an important tool in preventing the spread of the virus in the workplace by providing incentive to ill employees to stay at home. If any contract issues do arise related to H1N1, contact your local president immediately.

What should I do if I'm pregnant and I work or attend a K-12 school?

Pregnant women working in or attending schools should follow the same guidance as the general public about staying home when sick, hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, and routine cleaning. Pregnant women are at higher risk of complications from flu and should speak with their doctor as soon as possible if they develop a flu-like illness to find out whether they should take antiviral flu medicines. Any person at high risk for flu complications should do the same. Early treatment with antiviral flu medicines is recommended for pregnant women who have the flu. Pregnant women and their doctors should know that they are part of the first priority group to receive the 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine.

How will the decision be made to dismiss schools?

The decision to dismiss students will be made at the community level. School officials should work closely with their local and state public health and government officials to make sound decisions, based on local conditions. The decision should consider the number and severity of cases in an outbreak (looking at regional and local data), the risks of flu spread and benefits of dismissal, the problems that school dismissal can cause for families and communities, and different types of dismissal (selective, reactive, and pre-emptive). CDC or the state health department may recommend pre-emptive dismissals based on information that the outbreak is becoming more severe. An increase in flu spread without an impact on disease outcomes will not lead to the use of pre-emptive dismissals in most cases.

What is the difference between a school dismissal and school closure?

A school closure means closing the school and sending all the students and staff home. In a school dismissal, the school may stay open for staff while the children stay home.

Keeping school facilities open allows teachers to develop and deliver lessons and materials and other staff to continue to provide important services.

Where can I find more information on H1N1 as it relates to my specific job?

Job-specific fact sheets pertaining to H1N1 can be found by clicking the following links:

***Sources: AFT, NEA, CDC, NYSDOH, AFL-CIO and NYSUT