As we continue to deal with the unfolding of the swine flu threat, we need to keep in mind that the health departments in your area will have the information you need on dealing with the health matters, school closures, etc. For the first discussion guideline CMI published for schools you can go to this link.

A few more ideas:

Have school nurses give quick guides for teachers to teach students about our immune systems, reinforcing that most people who get these illnesses just get sick and then get better. If kids ask about who will die from a flu, point out that very young and very old people are most at risk, and that most of us have a pretty good immune system to help us ward off or survive disease.

If students are concerned about flu-related fatality, teachers could represent the large percentage of people who are surviving this flu by using one white bean in a gallon jar of black beans to represent that the vast majority of people who are contracting this flu are surviving. Students could first hear about immune systems, and then the teacher has the gallon jar and puts in lots of black beans, and then generates further discussion about immune systems.

That same jar could be a lesson for older students in the phenomenon of mutation and why it is so helpful to contain the disease. Each bean represents one person who contracts the disease. And each bean, then, represents one more opportunity for the virus to mutate into a more virulent form. So if we put one bean in the jar and that represents that only one person caught this flu from another, the virus has no further chance to mutate. But if 10 people catch the flu from that person, the virus has 10 times more opportunities to mutate. And 100 cases gives 100 opportunities. That means containing the spread is the most effective thing we can do right now.

There are a few precautions that we can teach children (and adults!) that will make a difference. Although we hear to cover our cough, we are not hearing often enough to cough into the crook of our elbow rather than into our hands. As soon as we cover a cough with our hands, everything we touch leaves those “germs” that can then be picked up by others. Keeping our cough and sneeze droplets off surfaces and off our own hands is the goal. And that is why hand-washing becomes critical.

For hand washing, teach kids that using soap and making it bubble and taking some time with it is essential. One way to help kids know how long to keep mushing that lather around on their hands is to have them sing one verse of the “Happy Birthday” song. Soap and water is much more effective than hand disinfectants such as Purell.