Are you worried about swine flu in your early years setting? Linda Thornton and Pat Brunton give advice on preventing swine flu spreading, keeping parents informed and managing existing cases

As the colder, damper weather of autumn arrives, we can expect to see a rise in the number of children and adults affected by swine flu. The swine flu virus is now already circulating widely in the community. The Health Protection Agency has therefore changed its guidance which will affect how early years settings and schools are advised to manage suspected cases of swine flu. Instead of treating all suspected cases and their contacts with antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu, the focus will now be on trying to control the spread of infection.

Early years settings are places where viruses such as influenza can spread very easily. The virus is spread by ‘droplets’ that are released into the air when a person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can then be breathed in by other people. The virus can also survive for up to 8 hours on hard surfaces, so it can be transmitted from saliva or mucus contaminating toys, tables, chairs, and door handles. Other people touching these surfaces will pick up the virus and could then infect themselves by touching their eyes, nose or mouth.

The way to control the spread of swine flu is no different from the approach used to prevent the transmission of any infection in an early years environment. If you have good protocols and procedures in place to ensure good hygiene in your setting, these should be adequate provided they are fully implemented. The current ‘pandemic’ status for swine flu means that there are going to be far more people in the local population infected with the virus. This increases the likelihood of a child or members of staff bringing the virus into the setting so you need to be extra vigilant in making sure everyone plays their part in reducing the opportunities for the virus to spread.

Practical suggestions
Preventing the spread of infection:

  • Review your hygiene and control of infection policy to make sure it is up to date, practical and easy to understand.
  • Read the information available from the Health Protection Agency (www.hpa.org.uk) so you understand what precautions you should put in place without causing undue anxiety.
  • Use this as an opportunity to get staff fully committed to your setting’s cleanliness and hygiene policies and procedures.
  • Introduce more frequent cleaning of hard surfaces – tables, chairs, door handles, light switches, toys and equipment.

Keeping parents informed:

  • Make sure parents understand that they should not bring their child to the setting if they suspect he or she is ill. People who have been in contact with others who have swine flu should only be excluded if they themselves show symptoms of the virus.
  • Explain that as the virus is very widespread in the community children are likely to be exposed to it in many different places. Therefore closing the setting would not help to control the spread of infection.
  • Provide information on the typical symptoms of swine flu – high temperature and a sudden cough or shortness of breath which may be accompanied by headache, tiredness, chills, aching arms and legs, joint pains, upset stomach, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing or loss of appetite. Reassure parents that in most cases the disease is mild and that most people make a quick recovery.
  • Let parents know that HPA guidelines have changed since the first cases were reported in the UK and that people suspected of having swine flu and their close family contacts will no longer be offered antiviral drugs.
  • Publicise the websites and telephone numbers of the agencies where parents can get further advice about swine flu – National Pandemic Flu Service www.pandemicflu.direct.gov.uk

Managing a suspected case of swine flu

  • Make sure your contact details for parents and staff emergency contacts are up to date.
  • Designate a place in your setting where a child or adult showing swine flu symptoms can be isolated until they can leave the premises.
  • Decide which member of staff will take responsibility for looking after a child showing swine flu symptoms before he/ she is collected. The HPA recommends the wearing of personal protective clothing – disposable gloves, apron and surgical mask. Make sure the staff member knows how to put these on and take them off correctly to minimise the risk of infecting themselves. The guidelines recommend that the adult does not sit/stay within one metre of the child. Practically this is likely to be very difficult to implement with very young children who will want to be comforted and reassured.

For more information on swine flu and how to help limit its spread see visit the Health Protection Agency website.

  • Links with EYPS Standards: S19, S24, S30, S35
  • Links with Ofsted SEF: Section 4b, 4c, 5i, 5j, 5k

This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 2009

About the author: Linda Thornton and Pat Brunton are early years consultants, trainers and authors and edit Early Years Update www.alcassociates.co.uk

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