Virus in a crowd

  • Health
  • Sunday, 04 Oct 2009

Influenza A(H1N1) in schools and the workplace.

INFLUENZA viruses, including the Influenza A(H1N1) virus, spreads easily in schools, education institutions, and the workplace because lots of people come into close contact with each other and share common facilities every day. However, simple steps can be taken to prevent or reduce the transmission of germs in the office or classroom.

I. If you are a teacher

■ Be alert: Make it a habit to ask your class whether there is anyone who is not feeling well every morning before you start classes. Children who are not feeling well, especially those with influenza-like illnesses, should be encouraged to go home and rest until they are symptom-free. If a student needs to remain in school for any reason at all, they should wear masks and avoid close contact with their classmates.

■ Inform and educate: Find creative ways to teach young children and students about Influenza A(H1N1) and the ways they could prevent themselves from getting the infection.

■ Take necessary action: If you find students who have influenza-like illnesses in class, inform the school administration, isolate them and inform their parents to take them home. Currently, the closure of schools is recommended as a last resort only when the percentage of student absenteeism is very high and lessons could not be carried out.

■ If your school is closed: Only staff and students with influenza-like illnesses should remain home to avoid spreading the disease.

II. If you are a parent

■ School may be fun for your child but advise him to stay home if he is having symptoms of influenza-like illness. Educate your child and other family members about the importance of preventative measures to stop spreading the virus.

■ If you have been asked to bring your child home, seek medical advice and ensure that your child remains home until he or she is symptom free.

■ Monitor your child’s symptoms closely. If he experiences any of the emergency warning signs (see below), seek medical help immediately.

III. If you are a boss, supervisor or manager

■ You should look out for any unusual increase in absenteeism or medical leave among your staff. Make the effort to find out if they are down with influenza-like illnesses.

■ If your employees are visibly sick in the office, please allow them to go home, or at least, ask them to wear a mask and keep their distance from other employees.

■ Please support your staff by giving them paid leave if they have influenza-like illnesses and advise them to stay home until they are symptom free, which is normally seven days from the onset of their illness.

■ If their work is essential, try to be creative in minimising their contact with their colleagues – arrange for them to work staggered hours, or work from home.

■ Advise your staff to seek medical treatment if their conditions worsen (see below, under emergency warning signs).

IV. If you are an employee

■ Try to stay home when you are sick or try to negotiate flexible working arrangements with your employer if your work is essential.

■ If you have to go to work or public places, avoid close contact with others, wear a mask, practise good cough etiquette, and wash your hands frequently, especially after you touch your nose, mouth or eyes.

V. If you own a business

■ You may want to consider coming up with a Business Continuity Plan to prepare for the continuation of your business operations if the pandemic affects the health of your staff.

■ Things you may want to consider are:

a. Ways to scale down operations or stagger working hours if employees are coming down with the infection.

b. Ways to communicate with your employees when there are operational adjustments.

c. Ways to screen employees and visitors for symptoms of influenza-like illness A(H1N1) to prevent the spread of the disease.

Source: adapted from and suggestions by infectious diseases specialist Dr Christopher Lee and Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai in a public forum.

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