By Michael O'Connor
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
It's not exactly algebra or the ABCs, but schools are emphasizing hand washing so much that it seems like part of the curriculum.
H1N1 flu is the reason.
Schools have always stressed hand washing, but usually during the winter, when colds and the regular seasonal flu are the problems.
This year, school districts in Omaha and Lincoln and elsewhere are emphasizing it at the start of the year — and not just with little kids. Middle school and high school students may get reminders during morning announcements.
“It's going to be front and center,'' said Judy Zabel, supervisor of health services for the Lincoln Public Schools.
In an era when health care is often high-tech, something as basic as scrubbing hands remains one of the best ways to keep safe from the flu.
Kids are great spreaders of the virus because they don't always clean their hands or cover their coughs.
Schools are demonstrating proper hand washing, hanging posters and taking other steps to remind parents, teachers and students that it is essential.
The Millard school district is asking elementary and middle school teachers to designate a time each day for kids to break out the soap and water.
Schools in Sioux City, Iowa, and other communities are using newsletters and school Web sites to urge parents to encourage their children to scrub.
“That's the key to prevention,” said Nancy Nielsen, head nurse for Millard.
Reagan Maulick, a kindergartner at Millard's Willowdale Elementary, said she gets plenty of reminders at home and school to wash. She knows she's doing it right if she sees one thing.
“Bubbles,'' she said.
Germs can stay on doorknobs and other surfaces for two to eight hours, said Dr. Kirti Gupta, a pediatrician with Alegent Health. That means flu germs on a desk could infect numerous children during the school day.
Children and young adults have been particularly vulnerable to H1N1. The rate of reported cases nationally was highest this past spring and early summer among those ages 5 to 24, federal health officials say.
Districts also are washing down desks and telling parents to keep sick kids home.
Teens can be tougher than little kids when it comes to getting them to wash their hands because you can't march middle school and high school students to the bathroom, nurses say.
“I think they'd rebel against that,'' said Sharon Wade, The Omaha Public Schools' supervisor of health services.
She advises explaining how germs on hands enter the body through nasal membranes if you rub your nose. If that doesn't work, you just have to hope teens realize that hand washing is the smart thing to do.