As children headed back to school this week, parents in the west are becoming increasingly concerned about the threat of swine flu.
An organisation which co-ordinates the development of childcare services in Galway is receiving up to four calls per day from local childcare providers concerned about swine flu.
Galway City and County Childcare Committee says the callers who run creches and provide childminding services in their homes are anxious to ensure they are providing a safe environment for the young children in their care.
Rosario Ni Shuilleabhain, information officer with GCCC, says it mailed out more than 550 information packs to these providers recently as concerns over the spread of the virus mount.
“We sent out posters and information featuring the HSE guidelines on general hygiene in connection with swine flu. It is a concern of service providers, they want to make sure they are providing a safe environment. They are doing everything they can.
“We are getting calls all the time, every day, at least three to four. They are asking what they should do hygiene wise, such as getting children to cover their mouths when they sneeze and wash their hands as much as possible.
“The HSE has provided quite extensive guidelines. It’s a wait and see situation at the moment. Everybody is ready and aware. We are providing as much support and information as we can and have linked up with the HSE. We want all children to be safe [from the virus] and we are working closely with the HSE and childcare providers to ensure this.”
Keith McMullen of the Department of Education and Science press office, says all schools re-opened as scheduled after the summer break.
“The Department of Education and Science is currently advised by the health authorities that the pandemic is anticipated to be moderate and that school closures for public health reasons are unlikely to be required. While schools/colleges are open parents should send their children to school/college, in the normal way, unless they have any symptoms of Pandemic (H1N1 ) 2009.”
“As long as students are well and not suffering from flu-like symptoms, there is no reason for students, including those who have just returned from abroad, to be kept away from school/college and they can carry on with their normal routine.”
An information leaflet for schools and colleges produced by his department in consultation with the HSE outlines the five most important things to do to help reduce the spread of the virus. These include raising awareness by putting up posters about the condition, encouraging students and staff to cover their mouths and noses with tissues when sneezing or coughing, washing their hands with soap and water and using paper towels, washing hard surfaces, such as door handles, with a normal household cleaner and recognising the symptoms and planning a response.
Meanwhile, a local health and safety company has devised a “Flu Awareness Initiative” for schools, parents’ groups and businesses aimed at helping prevent the spread of swine flu.
Vital Safety consultants says the key to success is to implement good health practices.
Mary Molloy, a nurse and health and safety consultant, says she designed the programme specifically to deal with the current flu (Pandemic H1N1 ).
“I recognised the opportunity to bring together all the available information in an easily accessible manner. As a mother of a young family myself and having spoken with friends and colleagues, I realised that there is still a great deal of uncertainty and confusion regarding flu and its prevention. I have taken all essential information available and condensed it into a practical 30 minute non-technical presentation aimed at schools, institutions and businesses.”
While the public are informed about the virus and the advice to prevent it is fairly simple, people are still concerned that their children may not be equipped to protect themselves from it, she says.
“Recent promotional campaigns contain all the vital information but as a mother I feel it’s worthwhile talking directly to young people to make sure they receive the message loud and clear. We talk directly to children in schools and show them what to do and what not to do. Sneezing and coughing properly is a serious matter and we’ll be on-site talking to students and staff to ensure they are aware of correct techniques. Interestingly, most people do not know how to wash their hands properly and we will be covering this as well as other essential good habits.”
Vital Safety Consultants will carry out audits of schools or businesses to ensure adequate hygiene facilities are in place to help reduce the spread of the flu.
“Our presentation covers everything from recognising the signs and symptoms of the flu, the essential measures to put in place to prevent the spread it and knowing what to do if a family member has it.”