These days, everyone from your neighbor to your employer and, hopefully, you may be developing preparedness plans in the event of bioterrorist attacks or flu pandemics. Unfortunately, your child’s school is likely to be very unprepared.
Despite warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the dire consequences that faced the Nation in 2009 during the H1N1 influenza pandemic-that-wasn’t resulted in 18,000 deaths worldwide, many U.S. schools are not prepared for bioterrorism attacks, outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases or pandemics, according to a study by researchers at Saint Louis University’s Institute for Biosecurity.
The study, led by Terri Rebmann, Ph.D., surveyed about 2,000 nurses working in elementary, middle and high schools across 26 States. Findings revealed that only 48 percent of schools address pandemic preparedness and only 40 percent of schools have updated their plans since the 2009 H1N1 scare that affected 214 countries.
“There is a lot of research that shows influenza spreads quickly in schools because it’s a communicable disease and kids interact closely,” Professor Rebmann said. “Schools need to have a written pandemic plan in order to be prepared to put interventions into place quickly when an event occurs.”
Published in the American Journal of Infection Control, the study also found that 44 percent of schools do not participate in community surveillance that tracks the presence of a disease based upon symptoms reported by area residents. These efforts are coordinated through local public health departments that assess indicators of biological threats.
“Health care professionals can best inform school administrators about unique aspects of pandemic planning that need to be included in school disaster plans,” Rebmann said. “Results from this study indicate that better prepared schools were ones that involved their nurses in the disaster planning committee. The school nurse is the best person in a school district to know about infection control and be able to make recommendations about the best interventions to implement during a biological event.”