SMMUSD HDQTRS — Cough into the arm, don’t rub the eyes and for kids who are sick, just stay at home.

Those are some of the tips that private and public school officials in Santa Monica are giving to parents, teachers and students as they attempt to protect campus populations against the spread of the seasonal influenza and H1N1 (swine) virus.

With the flu season underway, outbreaks have been reported in schools across the country, including in Los Angeles County where the Department of Public Health reported 33 cases during the week of Oct. 4-10. The cases are not distinguished by flu type.

County public health officials are recommending that schools send students and staff home if they exhibit flu-like behavior, keeping them away from the classroom for at least 24 hours after their fever has subsided and no longer require medications. Schools are also being advised to reinforce proper hand washing techniques — soaking them in clean running water with soap for 20 seconds.

“A little thing like that … really makes a difference,” Gennifer Yoshimaru, the director of institutional advancement at Crossroads School, said.

The private school has embarked on an educational campaign about safeguarding against influenza — seasonal or swine — since cases of the latter were first reported last spring, reinforcing some of the key tips, such as the hand washing, when classes began this fall.

The custodial staff also routinely goes around the campus disinfecting frequently touched areas, including desktops, door knobs, railings and entrances.

Teachers and students who show obvious signs of influenza are immediately sent home.

“At the school, we’re vigilant about that practice — if there is an employee or student manifesting any obvious symptoms, we send them home and we don’t let them return until they are symptom free,” Yoshimaru said.

Despite the recent publicity generated by flu and outbreaks, there hasn’t been a noticeable increase at Crossroads. From the cases that have been reported, school officials have not determined which are seasonal and which are swine.

“We’ve been casting a broader net in terms of any type of illness and really treating it the same way,” Yoshimaru said. “In fact, any viral infection, any flu, is potentially highly contagious and highly dangerous.”

Flu cases have increased at Santa Monica High School where the first game of the season for the football team was put in jeopardy when about two dozen players became ill. The case was reported to the L.A. County Department of Public Health but was not classified as swine flu.

Jane Jeffries, the coordinating nurse for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, said the illness most likely spread because the players were sharing water bottles. The incident would have been categorized as an outbreak because it involved multiple students within a subgroup.

She said there is an unusually high number of flu cases so early in the year.

The district is following the same precautions offered by the county Department of Public Health, advising students to stay at home for at least 24 hours after their fever has gone down. Students who come to school exhibiting flu-like symptoms are also isolated from the rest of the children.

Jeffries said the district is taking the same measures as previous flu seasons but at a heightened level given the recent attention to the H1N1 virus.

While the topic of school closures has not come up, such action might be taken if there was a significant number of students absent or teachers out because of the flu, Jeffries said.

“Just because there’s a group of five students out, we wouldn’t want to close the whole school when you have [the majority of] kids who are well,” she said.

Vigilance to the flu is evident at St. Monica Catholic High School, from the newsletters sent home to parents to the hand sanitizers installed in the classrooms and offices.

The biggest protector against influenza is better personal hygiene and changing the culture, letting students know it’s all right to miss school if they’re sick. The school is asking parents to keep their children at home for seven days if they contract the flu.

“We’re trying to help reassure families they should stay home if they have symptoms,” said Thom Gasper, the principal at St. Monica.

He said there’s been several influenza cases but none confirmed as H1N1.

“Nevertheless we’re treating it like flu and they need to stay home seven days regardless of whether it’s H1N1 or regular and that will help protect the community,” he said.

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