Infectious disease & illness

Children and young people can be susceptible to picking up bugs, which can make schools a key place for infections to spread. Microbes, including different bacteria, viruses, and fungi are everywhere and usually do not cause infection, and can even be beneficial! But some can cause infectious disease and common illness, resulting in pupil and staff absenteeism and in some cases, may also cause outbreaks.  

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Infections can be spread in many ways, but the most common routes and most relevant to school include: 

Key messages

  • Stay at home if you have symptoms of an infection e.g., gastroenteritis (diarrhoea and/or vomiting) or influenza (flu) like illness. Do not return to work or school until 48 hours have passed since last diarrhoea and/or vomiting episode, and follow national advice for managing infectious diseases.
  • Hand hygiene is one of the most important ways of controlling the spread of infections, especially those that cause diarrhoea and/or vomiting and respiratory infections.
  • Coughs and sneezes spread diseases. Covering the nose and mouth with a tissue when sneezing and coughing can reduce the spread of infections. Throw the tissue away swiftly and clean your hands. ‘Catch it, bin it, kill it’
  • Keeping education and childcare settings clean, including toys and equipment, reduces the risk of transmission. Effective cleaning and disinfection are critical in any education or childcare setting, particularly when food preparation is taking place.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) can protect staff and students from contamination with blood or bodily fluids, which may contain germs that spread disease.
  • Letting fresh air into indoor spaces can help dilute air that contains viral particles and reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory infections.
  • Blood and bodily fluids can contain germs that cause infection. It is not always evident whether a child, young person or staff member has an infection, and so precautions should always be taken.
  • Keep up to date with vaccinations to reduce the likelihood of infection and severe illness.
  • Report outbreaks promptly to UKHSA South West Health Protection Team.

 

As we have learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic, outbreaks and cases of infectious disease are not only disruptive for those who are unwell but can also be a burden to parents/caregivers, the education setting, and the local community through days lost in education, taking time off work, and the potential for wider spread.  

There are a number of simple yet incredibly effective principles for infection prevention that will help keep the risk of infection in your setting low: 

It might seem basic, but hand washing is one of the most important ways of controlling spread of infections, especially those that can cause diarrhoea and vomiting and respiratory infections.  

Having access to liquid soap, warm water, and paper towels is key. Do not use bars of soap, and if electric hand dryers are used instead, they need to be clean and in good working order.  

 Good old soap and water are the best thing to use, but hand sanitisers can be used if in the event hand washing facilities are not available but should not be considered an alternative!  

We all know the adage “coughs and sneezes spread diseases” – and it’s true! Covering the nose and mouth during sneezing and coughing can reduce spread of infections, and following good etiquette is important, regardless of the cause of coughs or sneezes. Cover nose and mouth with a tissue, throw the tissue away and then wash hands. If no tissue is available, use the inner elbow, not the hands! 

Cleaning the setting environment, including well-loved toys and regularly used shared equipment helps to reduce the risk of infection. It is important that the cleaning schedules clearly describe the activities required, frequency of cleaning and who will do it. All staff with cleaning responsibilities should be appropriately trained and have access to appropriate PPE, such as gloves, aprons, and fluid resistant surgical masks. Any blood, faeces, saliva, vomit, and other discharges should be cleaned immediately, wearing appropriate PPE. Under the waste management duty of care, schools must ensure that all waste is dealt with by a licenced waste management company.  

Keeping fresh air circulating helps to remove stale air and can remove virus particles and prevent spread of airborne viruses such as flu and coronavirus.  

Did you know?

Good ventilation in classrooms is not only helpful in reducing infection, having access to fresh air through good ventilation has also been linked to improved concentration! 

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Essential Signposting

What to do if you have infections circulating in your school

Education and childcare settings are asked to contact their UKHSA Health Protection Team as soon as possible to report any outbreak or serious or unusual illness based on guidance in the Managing specific infectious diseases section of the Health protection in children and young people, in education guidance which outlines what to do if you have an outbreak.

UKHSA Healthy Protection Team contact details:

Telephone: 0300 303 8162 

Email: swhpt@ukhsa.gov.uk

Email for personal identifiable information (PII): phe.swhpt@nhs.net

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