by Shannon Ford, Professional Development Coordinator
You’ve done everything right to prepare for flu season this year in your child care program. Your staff all got their flu shots. All of your children’s vaccination records are up-to-date. You’ve been sanitizing like crazy. Yet – bam! – the flu is here! What do you do next?
BE AWARE OF THE SYMPTOMS
Flu is a tough bug to figure out sometimes. Many symptoms – like coughing, stuffy nose, and sore throat – can mimic the common cold. Other symptoms – like a fever – sometimes, but not always, present themselves.
Emergency warning signs also appear differently in children than they do in adults. If you notice any of the following, get medical help right away1:
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Bluish skin color
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Not waking up or not interacting
- Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
- Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
- Fever with a rash
- Infants who are unable to eat, have no tears when crying, or have significantly fewer wet diapers than normal
And, remember – you should be aware of symptoms in adults that come in contact with the children as well. Family members, staff, and other visitors are also likely to spread the virus.
WHEN SHOULD I SEND A CHILD HOME?
We’re all used to sniffles and sneezes and snotty noses. However, if a child has the symptoms of flu (ex. fever) AND these respiratory symptoms during flu season, you should exclude him or her from care2. Because the flu is so easily transmitted through little coughs and sneezes, this is one of the most common ways it spreads.
Sometimes, a little guy or girl is just too puny to do what everyone else in the class is doing. If he or she requires so much additional care from staff that the teacher isn’t able to attend to others, it’s time to consider a call home to Mom or Dad.
HOW SHOULD I MAKE FAMILIES AWARE WHEN SOMEONE IN MY PROGRAM HAS THE FLU?
Your first step is always to make the child’s parent or guardian aware when you suspect that he or she has the flu.
If a doctor or nurse practitioner diagnoses two or more children or staff members with the influenza virus, Licensing3 requires directors to immediately notify all family members and staff that they have been exposed. To do this, you can post on the door or another conspicuous place something like, “Cases of Influenza have been diagnosed in someone who has been in this building.” Or, you may give a personal note to each parent or staff member.
Have information pamphlets available on hand should family members or staff have additional questions. See the American Academy of Pediatrics website for suggestions.
WHAT ARE MY OTHER RESPONSIBILITIES WHEN CHILDREN OR STAFF ARE DIAGNOSED WITH THE FLU?
Directors’ jobs aren’t done when families and staff are notified. They also need to ensure that they are meeting all the licensing requirements3 to report the incidents of flu as necessary. Keep in mind that you must complete AT LEAST one of the following tasks. Depending on the situation, it may be beneficial for you to reach out to more than one resource for guidance.
- Consult your local health department.
- Call your licensing consultant.
It essentially all boils down to this sobering fact; the health and safety of little people are in your hands. Be aware, follow through, and do what’s in the best interest of the children in your care.
- 1 Center for Disease Control Flu Symptoms & Complications
- 2 American Academy of Pediatrics Influenza Prevention and Control Strategies for Early Education and Child Care Programs
- 3 Indiana licensing interpretive guides – Reporting Communicable Disease
- HealthyChildren.org – Preventing the Flu: Resources for Parents & Child Care Providers