Dubai: As students return to school from different parts of the world next week, doctors are advising schools and parents to follow the Dubai Health Authority (DHA)’s guidelines for prevention and control of various infections.
Last year, a Dubai-based primary school had to shut down for four days following an outbreak of gastroenteritis where many students collapsed in the school corridor complaining of nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Dr Badreya Harmi, director of the Public Health Protection Department at DHA, told Gulf News: “Infectious diseases can spread in schools because a large number of young people are in close contact with each other. Some of them may not have developed good personal habits or immunity to various diseases. Understanding the way different infectious diseases spread allows the correct preventive measures to be applied.”
This year, chances of children catching viral and bacterial infections of the stomach and respiratory system are high as many are returning from floodstricken regions in Asia.
Dr Al Harmi said all schools must develop a sound infection control policy and effective ways to implement high standards of hygiene to check the spread of diseases.
Dr Abdul Majeed, specialist paediatrics and neonatology, Aster Hospital Mankhool, explained why chances of infection outbreak are high.
“This year, chances of children catching viral and bacterial infections of the stomach and respiratory system are high as many are returning from flood-stricken regions in Asia. Flooded areas are unhygienic and people stand the risk of being exposed to waterborne and airborne diseases. Stagnant water is also a breeding ground for diseases like malaria and dengue. Children are at greater risk as their immune systems are weaker than those of the adults. While on vacation, they are exposed to different temperatures, sleep deprived and have eaten all kinds of foods, so they are likely to be afflicted by stomach and throat infections.”
In many cases, the full-blown disease may manifest itself only after they reach the UAE, so preventive care is essential.
Some of them may not have developed good personal habits or immunity to various diseases. Understanding the way different infectious diseases spread allows the correct preventive measures to be applied.
Dr Abdul Majeed said, “Parents are advised to get the flu vaccination for the new strain of influenza in their home countries. In addition depending on the area they are coming from, they can get additional vaccines like the pneumococcal vaccine for protection against respiratory diseases and also the meningococcal vaccines as indicated for the region they are returning from.”
Dr Abdul Majeed recommended a close watch on students in the first week of joining school. “Those afflicted by a viral or bacterial infection are likely to show symptoms in the first week itself. Parents are advised to be on the lookout for these signs. Do not take fever, cough or cold lightly. Consult your doctor, get the influenza test done and if need be, a bacterial culture too in case of a persistent cough and cold or urine infection. Keep your child at home instead of pushing him to attend school as the infection can spread to a larger section of children,” he said.
School authorities on their part are also taking preventive measures by getting the AC ducts cleaned, fumigating and sanitising their premises before students arrive.
Basic DHA Guidelines
• Immunisation of susceptible people will give herd immunity to all
Immunisation of pupils and staff. If all potential targets for infection are made resistant by immunisation, then the infectious chain will be broken. This approach has been successfully adopted for many previously common childhood infections like polio and diphtheria. This is called herd immunity. Herd immunity is resistance to the spread of a contagious disease within a population that is made possible only when a sufficiently high proportion of individuals are rendered immune to the disease through vaccination, mostly.
• Exclusion of infectious source
Many infectious diseases are most transmissible as or just before symptoms develop. It is important therefore that pupils and staff who are ill stay at home. Ill pupils should be removed from the classroom while waiting to go home. Obvious symptoms of illness are diarrhoea, vomiting, fever, cough, sore throat and rash.
• Implementation of standard precautions and basic good hygiene
Good hygiene practices, including hand hygiene is important. Encourage washing of hands well in school after students visit the toilet and before they eat food. If they are outdoors, they must be encouraged to use hand sanitisers as infection spreads through droplets of body fluids such as saliva and sweat.
• Appropriate use of barriers such as personal protective clothing (PPE), including face masks, gloves and aprons.
• Environmental hygiene. Public toilets and canteens need to be kept clean and directives to manage spillage of body fluids followed to prevent spread of infection.
• Staying at home when sick. It is better that a sick child rests and recovers at home instead of exposing others to a dangerous infection.
• Boosting immunity
Provide your child healthy, wholesome and nutritious food. Make sure he or she follows an eight-hour sleep cycle in the night after he returns from vacation and also providing good health supplements such as vitamins.
• Proper disposal of garbage. Schools must take care to dispose off garbage and other waste to contain the spread of any infection.
Source: Dr Badreya Al Harmi