Study: Many schools in U.S. unprepared for next pandemic

Saint Louis University researchers found in a recent study that less than half of U.S. schools mention pandemic preparedness in their school plan and just 40 percent have changed their plan since the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.

The study, published in the American Journal of Infection Control, analyzed survey responses from approximately 2,000 school nurses in 26 states to determine if elementary, middle and high schools were prepared for the next pandemic. The U.S. Department of Education mandates school preparedness for all disasters, including biological matters.

The research team found that only 29.7 percent of schools stockpile personal protective equipment, 22.9 percent have no staff members trained on the school disaster plan and 33.8 percent train their students on infection prevention less than once per year. The study also found that 1.5 percent of schools stockpile medication to prepare for another pandemic and that 73.7 percent of school nurses were vaccinated against the flu for the 2010/2011 season.

"Findings from this study suggest that most schools are even less prepared for an infectious disease disaster, such as a pandemic, compared to a natural disaster or other type of event," Terri Rebmann, the lead author of the study, said. "Despite the recent H1N1 pandemic that disproportionately affected school-age children, many schools do not have plans to adequately address a future biological event."

The researchers concluded that schools in the United States must keep addressing infectious disease emergency planning gaps and should involve school nurses in the planning efforts.