Outbreaks of infectious diseases are common in schools, as there are many people in close proximity that share the same surfaces and resources. Families rely on schools to provide education for their children, and parents/whanau will often send their child to school despite being unwell and possibly infectious with bacterial or viral conditions. It is therefore important for schools to promote good infection control strategies to help prevent the spread and impact of illness amongst their school community.
Hand washing is a first defence against the spread of coughs, colds, the flu, stomach bugs and food poisoning. Students who do not wash their hands properly are at greater risk of contracting illnesses themselves, or passing infection to others. This in turn results in the need to have days off school, which recent educational research has shown often leads to them falling behind in school work. Control of infectious diseases, like influenza and gastroenteritis, continues to be one of our highest health priorities, as these consistently prove to be a significant cause of illness in our communities.
Encouraging staff, students and their families to keep up to date with immunisations can reduce absenteeism occurring from infectious diseases. It will also contribute to better health in the wider community, as the spread of infectious disease is minimised.
In addition, teaching children to keep their body and teeth clean is an important part of building self-esteem – if they care about the way they present themselves and feel good about their body then they’ll feel pretty good about themselves. Schools can help by implementing oral health and hand washing programmes.
Did you know?
Influenza is different to a cold; it is potentially a serious illness that can kill. Up to one in five people will become ill with influenza every year. Being fit and healthy will not prevent you from being infected with an influenza virus.
A wide variety of micro-organisms – bacteria, fungi, parasites, viruses and other organisms - can cause illness in people. Many of these can contaminate food. Food borne illness is estimated to strike about 200,000 New Zealanders every year. Thorough washing and drying of hands is the most effective way of preventing the spread of infectious diseases.
Information and guidelines on ways to support communicable disease prevention and body care in schools can be found in our Guidance documents section. In order to ensure sustainable changes in communicable disease prevention and body care, it is important that these guidelines are implemented using a 'whole school approach'. This means embedding communicable disease prevention and body care messages and practices into Curriculum, teaching and learning, School organisation and ethos and Community links and partnerships.
To see examples of what other schools have done, check out our Case studies section, and be sure to look through our Resources for links to free toolkits, posters, books and other information to support your communicable disease prevention and body care programme.