communication toolkit for child care and early childhood programs in order to assist them in preparing for the flu, including the 2009 H1N1 flu."> communication toolkit for child care and early childhood programs in order to assist them in preparing for the flu, including the 2009 H1N1 flu."> communication toolkit for child care and early childhood programs in order to assist them in preparing for the flu, including the 2009 H1N1 flu.">
As early childhood professionals, we must balance the health and wellness of the entire program with the needs of the family and staff. It is not uncommon for a family to bring their child into child care when they are ill simply because they must go to work. Many families do not have the luxury of staying home even if they suspect their child may be ill. However, early childhood professionals must make decisions based on the welfare of all children and staff in the program, and thus, may have to send a child home, or even ask them to stay home for seven or more days. There is no doubt, this can be a strain on many families, so open and honest communication is paramount. That communication should include information from the CDC that states children under the age of five are at higher risk for complications from the flu, and severe flu complications are most common in children younger than two years old. Infants younger than six months old are a particularly vulnerable group because they are too young to get the seasonal flu of 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine.
Policies will need to be implemented to support your healthy program. The toolkit offers practical answers to the questions you may have. For example, "Should our early childhood program require a note from a health care provider to allow children who have been ill to return to the program?" The CDC answers with..."No, a note from a doctor's office or health care provider should not be required." The toolkit goes on to describe what steps providers can take to ensure a child is ready to return to care. Overwhelming already busy doctor's offices and health care facilities will place more strain on a family and it may be difficult for them to obtain a letter. The best policy is if a child has symptoms of the flu they should stay home until they are fever free (under 100 degrees by mouth) for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing medicines. This is usually about three to five days.
The symptoms of seasonal flu and the 2009 H1N1 flu are described by the CDC as the following: a fever measured by the mouth of 100 degrees or higher, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and tiredness. Some people may also experience vomiting and diarrhea. Some children may not be able to tell you about their symptoms, which can result in a delay in responding to their illness. It is important to watch carefully for the signs and symptoms of flu or unusual behavior that may be a sign that a child is sick. One strategy that may identify an illness in a child early on is a daily health check of children in your care. The toolkit provides a detailed description for implementing such a policy in your program. In addition, child care programs can find fact sheets to inform parents, a poster, and template letters to send to parents regarding the flu and your policies.While it is safe to give children Tylenol or ibuprofen to ease the symptoms, remember never to give a child aspirin when they have a fever as it can lead to a rare but serious illness called Reye's syndrome.
The CDC toolkit also includes steps programs can take to: increase social distance among young children, facilitate a closure if necessary, resume care after a closure and provide options for parents if a program closes due to illness. Of course, vaccination is the number one recommendation by the CDC to prevent the spread of the flu. In addition, encourage staff and children to cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when they cough or sneeze. Remind staff and children to practice good hand washing. Remind staff to stay home and parents to keep a sick child at home when they have flu-like symptoms. And, if possible, move sick children or staff to a seperate, but supervised space until they can go home.
Early childhood programs can be one of the most challenging places to prevent the spread of flu. Young children share many toys and are in constant contact with one another. Couple that with the fact that they have yet to master good hand washing and covering of coughs and sneezes, it is not a stretch to say that it will be virtually impossible to prevent the spread of infectious diseases like the flu in an early learning setting. No policy will keep everyone who is infectious out of these settings, but early detection and sound, consistent health practices will reduce the number of affected children, families and staff.
I look forward to your comments and any discussions about the challenges you have faced as an early childhood professional in keeping your program healthy or enforcing health care policies in your program.
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