Nurse survey exposes school pandemic planning gaps

Sep 4, 2012 (CIDRAP News) – A survey of school nurses in 26 states about pandemic influenza preparedness in schools found some worrisome gaps, despite a federal requirement that the facilities must prepare for all types of disasters, including infectious diseases.

The findings, from a research team based at Saint Louis University, appear in the September issue of the American Journal of Infection Control (AJIC). The investigators recruited school nurses from professional organizations and other sources such as school Web sites to take an online survey

The survey included 26 questions, including 11 specific to flu pandemic preparedness, plus some demographic queries. It was distributed by state school nurse associations and/or state education departments.

A total of 1,997 nurses completed the survey, conducted between May and July 2011, for an overall response rate of 21.9%. The response rates were higher in states where those distributing the survey used recruitment e-mails than in states where survey teams relied on Web link notices.

Scores ranged from 0 to 10 points, with an average of 4.3. Preparedness scores were linked to a variety of factors, such as a school's designation as a point of dispensing during a future pandemic, whether it had student or staff hospitalizations or deaths during the 2009 pandemic, and if the school nurse was a member of the disaster planning committee.

The researchers found that fewer than half of the schools addressed pandemic preparedness in their disaster plans and that only 40% had updated their plans since the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. Less than one-third (29.7%) stockpiled personal protective equipment.

The survey showed that although few schools had mandatory flu vaccination policies for nurses, 73.7% were vaccinated. Less than half of the schools were participating in a community syndromic surveillance program, which can assist with early detection of disease outbreaks.

Terri Rebmann, PhD, RN, lead study author and associate professor of environmental and occupational health at Saint Louis University School of Public Health, said in a press release from the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), the publisher of AJIC, that schools are less prepared for pandemics than for natural disasters and other events.

"Despite the recent H1N1 pandemic that disproportionately affected school-age children, many schools do not have plans to adequately address a future biological event," she said.

The authors concluded that exposing the planning gaps can help schools develop better plans and coordinate them with local and regional agencies.

See also:

September Am J Infect Control abstract

Aug 30 APIC press release

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