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School Nurse Guide to the Flu (Influenza)

school nurse flu infuenza

We all love free stuff. However, there should be an asterisk by the word “stuff.” It should look something like this: “We all love free stuff*.” The “*” clarification should be, “Unless it’s chewed bubble gum, unpopped popcorn kernels, or the flu.” Needless to say, there are many, many, MANY folks who will receive their very own FREE version of the flu this season.

A mother calls the office, “My kid is staying home today because he has the ‘bird flu’.” Some mammas want to make sure their “situation” is appreciated. We all want our situation appreciated, right? As school nurses, though, as soon as word gets around that someone has contracted the “bird flu,” the threshold of your office fills with concerned teachers and faculty members who want to know, “Are we safe to be here? What should we watch for?”

In this article we’ll discuss:

  • What is the flu (influenza)?
  • What is the contagious period?
  • What are the symptoms of the flu?
  • How does the flu spread?
  • How to control the flu in your school house
  • To exclude or not to exclude
  • Other stuff (or should I say, “stuff*”)

What is the flu (influenza)?

The flu is caused by a virus, not a bacteria. We nurses know that, but for the many, many patients I have had over the years who have asked for antibiotics “because I have the flu,” I just wanted to cover that. The flu (influenza) is a contagious viral infection that attacks folks’ respiratory system.

There are four types of influenza: A, B, C, and D. We humans have to worry about becoming sick from Influenza A, B, and C. Influenza D does not make humans ill (yet). Influenza D will make cows sick, but has not yet “emerged” to cause illness in humans (that we know of).

Influenza A

When someone calls and reports “bird flu,” and we’ve been teaching and working with this individual for the past few days, a tiny bit (more in some than others) of panic starts in, and their questions find their way to the school nurse.

Birds, just like you and I, can get the flu. Birds, like chickens and ducks and geese (oh my!) can get the flu and pass it along only to other birds…in most cases. However, bird flu (avian influenza) like H5N1, is super-dangerous. It’ll kill most birds…and, since the first human case in 1997, this strain of influenza has killed most folks who have contracted it (60% who get the H5N1 virus die from it).

Back in 2009, the H1N1 virus emerged and cause the first global pandemic in more than 40 years. There were a bunch of really sick folks that required hospitalization…some did not make it (actually, many did not make it).

What does that “H” and that “N” mean?

There are two sub-types of Influenza A. There are two proteins on the surface of the viruses. They are called hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N). They differentiate even more into tinier subsets: “18 different hemagglutinin subtypes and 11 different neuraminidase subtypes. (H1 through H18 and N1 through N11, respectively).” Influenza A has been the culprit behind all of the major flu pandemics, and the type A flu virus is constantly changing. From the Spanish flu of 1918 to the 2009 pandemic…one or another of the Influenza A strains have been the “evil-doer.”

When folks hear the key words “Influenza A,” “bird flu,” and “swine flu,” they get a little panicked…and they should…folks die from Influenza A. When folks are concerned in your school house, they will c “swle panre are two oteins on thhat is the contagio” flu in 2uchool houson thhat is tulde concernthhat is tuflu inempeen u concesl,labie pb.conceslcategorspan>enzi.gooseethen yoro{ teachers al host-icon{float: ind they shouu:sout/viu.conceslcarong>flu (lu in 2ucho.bie mpeeonceu con,b 0an>en0h{floes-mag-pro/images/prrww.cdc.gov/f(s-m: ).eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee2angingb.con seeu clAir-eeeeee=e pat: i: eeeeeeefolks are p,nos somuson thh0l="style="font-size: 24px;">How does L#_,thh"ontent">

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