Breaking the Chain of Infection in School
07 April 2011
In the midst of concerns about pupil and staff absence caused by sickness outbreaks, parents are being advised that their judgement of schools should be as much about the standard of the cleanliness as the amount of technology available in the ICT suite. This naturally takes some dedicated attention, so what can schools do to shift their priorities and be reassured that the correct hygiene measures are in place? Mike Burton
The Truth About Germs in Schools
Hygiene control in schools is a steadily increasing concern following a surge in illnesses such as norovirus, swine flu and E. coli 0175 over the last year. The worst could be yet to come with the imminent outbreak of Community Acquired MRSA which has been sweeping through the US. The confined environments and high physical contact rate within schools means these viruses can easily take hold and spread quickly. The effects are far reaching, both for the school and the local community.
Germs can invisibly enter a school environment, becoming a hidden danger for children and staff. The main hotspots for infection within schools are primarily the toilets, followed by the cafeteria and the sports hall. Norovirus, which is estimated to affect 100,000 people a week, is often related to faecal contamination and if children fail to clean their hands sufficiently, the chain of infection begins and makes its way around the school.
Breaking the chain
Hygiene education and management in schools are the most effective ways to break the chain of infection. By adopting measures to protect children and staff, schools can reduce the number of school days lost each year due to avoidable illness.
Dr. Ron Cutler, Deputy Head of Biomedical Science at Queen Mary, University of London, and a Government spokesperson on infectious diseases, has the following advice: "Learning appropriate hygiene practices, such as cleaning hands, can be a powerful way of reducing the risk of cross infection and helping combat viruses". Dr. Cutler also believes that schools would benefit from creating a dedicated role of responsibility for infection control and trying to enforce more stringent rules on children returning to school before the recommended incubation period is over.
The need to create a healthy and safe place to learn is paramount and a key objective of school staff. Insufficient hygiene awareness among pupils, dated washroom facilities and daunting cleaning responsibilities for staff, are areas which schools need to be particularly aware of, and, where necessary, seek external support and advice.
In association with Queen Mary, University of London, Albany Healthy Schools have created a free hygiene audit and website which offers additional advice and information on school hygiene http://www.albanyhealthyschools.co.uk. With Ofsted currently reviewing hygiene as additional measurable criteria, these can be of valuable support to inspection preparation.