According to a recent study published in American Journal of Infection Control, the journal of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), less than 50% of schools do not prepare for pandemic situations and only 40% have re-evaluated their plans since the H1N1 outbreak in 2009.
It is believed that the H1N1 virus caused around 17,000 deaths by 2010.
St Louis University researchers looked at data from surveys answered by around 2,000 nurses from elementary schools, middle schools and high schools over 26 different states in the U.S. Their goal was to determine whether these schools were prepared to tackle the problems that come with pandemics.
The researchers note that being prepared for a pandemic is crucial, not just due to the outcomes of H1N1, but because in the future, an outbreak could occur, causing health problems, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome, for many children.
The U.S Department of Education makes it mandatory for schools to have plans set in place for any disaster situation, including biological events.
During their study, the experts discovered that only 29.7% of schools have protective gear on hand and a scary 22.9% do not have the faculty trained according to the school's plan in case of emergency.
33.8% of the schools looked at said they only train their students less than one time during the year on how to prevent infection. Moreover, a mere 1.5% of schools have medication on site which could help in the situation of a pandemic outbreak.
However, the authors reported that even though only 2.2% of schools make it mandatory for school nurses to get the flu vaccine, 73.7% had been vaccinated for the 2010/2011 season.
Terri Rebmann, PhD, RN, CIC lead study author and associate professor of Environmental and Occupational Health at the Saint Louis University School of Public Health commented:
"Findings from this study suggest that most schools are even less prepared for an infectious disease disaster, such as a pandemic, compared to a natural disaster or other type of event. Despite the recent H1N1 pandemic that disproportionately affected school-age children, many schools do not have plans to adequately address a future biological event."
The authors said that it is important for U.S schools to put a plan in place in preparation for a pandemic outbreak. They need to strengthen their plans that they already have, and modify them to be more effective. The experts advise that school nurses should be as involved as possible in these plans because they are crucial advisers in times of a pandemic crisis.
Written by Christine Kearney