Report: U.S. Schools not ready for next pandemic

A new report reveals that U.S. schools are not prepared for outbreaks of disease.

The study was led by Terri Rebmann, an associate professor at SLU's Institute for Biosecurity. The study surveyed approximately 2000 nurses in elementary through high schools in 26 states, Science Daily reports.

Only 48 percent of the schools address pandemic preparedness while only 40 percent have updated their plans since the 2009 H1N1 outbreak that resulted in 18,000 deaths worldwide.

"There is a lot of research that shows influenza spreads quickly in schools because it's a communicable disease and kids interact closely," Rebmann said, Science Daily reports. "Schools need to have a written pandemic plan in order to be prepared to put interventions into place quickly when an event occurs."

The study urges schools to update their pandemic preparedness plans annually to address gaps in infectious disease emergency planning. Schools are also encouraged to coordinate plans with local and regional disaster response agencies, as well as hold drills and exercises to simulate infectious disease scenarios.

The study was published in the American Journal of Infection Control. It found that 44 percent of schools did not participate in community surveillance tracking diseases in the area. One reason for that is the lack of surveillance programs that use school data as an indicator. Additionally, some districts share a nurse between various schools, which leads to inconsistent, inaccurate or unreported data.

Rebmann suggested involving school nurses more in building and assessing a plan I order to help strengthen pandemic preparedness programs.

"Health care professionals can best inform school administrators about unique aspects of pandemic planning that need to be included in school disaster plans," Rebmann said, Science Daily reports. "Results from this study indicate that better prepared schools were ones that involved their nurses in the disaster planning committee. The school nurse is the best person in a school district to know about infection control and be able to make recommendations about the best interventions to implement during a biological event."