School nurses will play an important role in helping catch and control what could be a dangerous flu season over the coming months. Iowa law requires each of the 364 school districts in the state to employ a school nurse.
The state’s largest school district, Des Moines, has more than 30 nurses on staff. But, some small districts that may have 200 to 300 students can only afford a part-time nurse. Charlotte Burt is the school nurse and health services consultant with the Iowa Department of Education.
"I had one nurse call the other day and the (local school district) is hiring her for two hours a week," Burt said.
There were 487 school nurses in Iowa according to statistics from 2008. Burt, however, says those numbers are inaccurate. She believes Iowa has more school nurses than districts are reporting and the state is close the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommendation of one nurse per 750 students.
Regardless of the statistics, Burt says those nurses will be following some new guidelines this year to minimize the spread of the seasonal or H1N1 flu viruses.
She says the CDC is asking schools to set aside a room for sick students to stay in until they can get home. In recent years, a handful of Iowa schools have temporarily shut down because so many students were sick with the flu. The CDC recently altered its recommendation for kids and teachers that are home sick. Ill students and staff are now being told to stay away from school until 24 hours after their fever subsides.
Burt says school nurses and teachers will also be working extra hard this school year to educate students about the importance of frequent hand washing and coughing etiquette.