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Flu hygiene lessons help address the spread in classrooms

Flu hygiene lessons help address the spread in classrooms for the 12th winter in a row

As SneezeSafe® Healthy Classrooms lessons in primary schools are completed for Term 2 and influenza approaches its annual peak attention is being drawn to flu data, compiled by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) (see ESR graphs below), confirming that school age children in Auckland and Counties Manukau were seen by a doctor for influenza in the largest numbers of all age groups last winter, followed by pre-schoolers.

The data recorded for the 2015 Annual Report by the ESR led SHIVERS (Southern Hemisphere Influenza and Vaccine Effectiveness, Research and Surveillance) Project showed that influenza-related consultations affected 5 to 19 year old children at the highest rate (1051.8/100,000), followed by 1 to 4 year old children (621.4/100,000) and adults aged 35 to 49 years (544/100,000) across the nation’s two most densely-populated District Health Board (DHB) regions.

But in terms of hospitalisations due to influenza, the inverse occurred. It was the outer extremes of the graphs – babies aged 1 and below and adults aged 80 and over – who were hit by flu most severely, with acute respiratory infections requiring hospitalisation.

Leading virologist Dr Lance Jennings agrees with flu hygiene initiatives that support environments where flu spreads most, like classrooms and pre-schools. Dr Jennings has championed the SneezeSafe® Healthy Classrooms Programme since it was first made available to New Zealand schools by Kleenex® Tissues in 2005.

Dr Jennings confirms that the way people most commonly catch flu is ‘by breathing in live, infectious flu particles that have recently been sprayed into the air from someone’s uncovered sneeze or cough.’

In 2015, Dr Jennings was concerned by the findings of a Colmar Brunton survey conducted among 1001 respondents showing that 40%, including a disproportionate number of 30 to 39 year old women, misunderstood how flu spread from person to person; and worse, that 69% of 30 to 39 year old men admitted to spraying infectious sneezes into the air for others to breathe.

The SneezeSafe® Healthy Classrooms Programme is a world-leading classroom lesson that makes learning about flu hygiene fun for children. In classrooms, sparkly green glitter doubles as make-believe flu virus particles on unwashed hands; bubbles float in the air modelling flu droplets; and a mist of water launched from the teacher’s spray bottle delivers an untrapped (fictional) sneeze. Children then learn to trap their sneezes, bin their tissues and wash their hands. More details below in SneezeSafe® Programme Story.

SneezeSafe® lesson plans, posters and an introductory letter for parents are made available every year by Kleenex® Tissues at for teachers and nurses to download and use in support of the health curriculum. In Term 1 teachers were encouraged to diary a SneezeSafe® lesson for their classroom or kindergarten in Term 2, before July when New Zealand’s annual influenza peak is recorded to occur. Over 3000 teachers and nurses have visited the website and are engaged this year.

The SneezeSafe® Programme branches out

Schools around New Zealand are learning not only how and why to trap their sneezes, bin their tissues and wash their hands, they’re also learning about new conservation efforts to save a threatened, endemic New Zealand bird who, incidentally, also sneezes.

In an extension of the SneezeSafe® Healthy Classrooms programme which has been helping children learn good flu hygiene habits in New Zealand for more than a decade, Kleenex® Tissues have developed a second teaching resource entitled SneezeSafe® Healthy Forests Lesson Plan.


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