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Increased Absenteeism in Schools

Reporting Increases in School Absenteeism Due to Illness and Communicable Diseases

Assess if you have an outbreak or increased absenteeism

Do you have >10% absenteeism due to illness with similar symptoms in students and /or staff within the entire school on the same day?

OR

Do you have a sudden or unusual increase in absenteeism due to illness with similar symptoms in students and/or staff within a classroom or in the entire school on the same day?

If no,

Continue to monitor for a sudden or unusual increase in absenteeism due to illness.

If yes,

How many people are absent? What are the symptoms?

Report to Ottawa Public Health at 613-580-6744, ext 26325 from 8:30 to 4:30 or 3-1-1 outside of regular business hours, on weekends or statutory holidays. The Outbreak Management Team will assess and make recommendations as appropriate.

If you have students absent with other symptoms and/or illnesses, please refer to the Guidelines For Communicable Disease And Other Childhood Health Issues For Schools And Childcare Facilities.

Infection Prevention and Control Measures During Increases in Absenteeism

Hand Hygiene

Thorough hand hygiene is essential for all staff and children to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Small children should be supervised when performing hand hygiene to ensure it is done properly. Hand hygiene includes both hand washing and hand sanitizing.

Cohorting of ill students

Ill students should be kept in a separate supervised area that can be easily cleaned and disinfected, until they can be sent home.

Exclusion of ill students and/or staff

Students should be kept at home when they have:

  • symptoms of an enteric illness, including vomiting and/or diarrhea, and for 48 hours after the resolution of their symptoms.
  • symptoms of a respiratory illness, including cough, fever, and headache, and for five days after the onset of their symptoms, or until they are fever-free for 24 hours and feeling better, whichever is shorter. 
  • other symptoms as described in the Guidelines for Communicable Diseases and Other Childhood Health Issues for Schools and Child Care Facilities (February 2007, or as current). This guide can be obtained by calling the OPH Information Line at 613-580-6744 or by visiting ottawa.ca/health

Signage

Appropriate notices and posters should be posted at all entrances to advise parents/guardians/visitors of the increase in absenteeism at the school.  Refer to the sample signage provided in the School Absenteeism Reporting Package.

Cleaning and Disinfection

Please refer to the Environmental Cleaning and Disinfection fact sheet and the Cleaning and Disinfection Checklist of Commonly Touched Surfaces fact sheet for detailed information on cleaning and disinfecting during periods of increased absenteeism due to illness, or during outbreaks.

 For more information or if you have any questions, please call the Ottawa Public Health Outbreak Reporting Line at 613-580-6744, ext. 26325.

Cleaning and Disinfection Checklist of Commonly Touched Surfaces and Items

Commonly touched surfaces and items should be cleaned and disinfected frequently (i.e. at least once a day) to limit the potential spread of germs. When the school is experiencing an increase in absenteeism due to illness, cleaning and disinfection of these surfaces and items is required more often. A recommended disinfectant should be used to reduce contamination from commonly touched items.  Remember, always work from clean areas to dirty areas.

General Areas:

  • Door knobs/frames/handles/other frequently touched areas on the door
  • Locker doors/cubby holes/storage bins for students
  • Desks/tables/chairs/counter tops
  • Hand railings
  • Light switches
  • Shared equipment (such as sports equipment and musical instruments after each use, computer keyboards and mice, toys, etc)
  • Telephones/faxes/photocopiers/intercoms
  • Water fountains
  • Elevator buttons
  • Garbage lids
  • Floors
  • Other areas specific to your school: 

Kitchen/Cafeteria/Staff Room (including items from the “General Areas” when applicable):

  • Food preparation areas and equipment
  • Counter tops
  • Fridge handles
  • Microwaves
  • Coffee pots/kettles
  • Tables/chairs
  • Other areas specific to your school:

Washrooms (including items from the “General Areas” when applicable):

  • Stall door edges and locks
  • Coat hooks
  • Sanitary napkin dispensers
  • Paper towel dispensers
  • Soap dispensers
  • Taps/faucets
  • Flush handles
  • Toilet bowls
  • Other areas specific to your school: 

Important points to remember:

  • Use separate rags or disposable paper towels to clean sinks and toilets/urinals
  • Ensure an adequate supply of paper towels and soap.  Do not top up partially empty dispensers. Once empty, containers must be cleaned, disinfected, dried, and then refilled.
  • Soap or detergent must be rinsed off prior to disinfection. 

For more information or if you have any questions, please call the Ottawa Public Health Outbreak Reporting Line at 613-580-6744, ext. 26325.

Environmental Cleaning and Disinfection

Proper cleaning and disinfection can prevent the spread of disease.  Disease-causing microorganisms can survive on both soft and hard surfaces and items for extended periods of time, from hours to weeks.  The cleaning and disinfection of these surfaces is important in reducing the spread of infection because it will help to remove and kill the microorganisms. 

When there is an increase in absenteeism due to illness, it is recommended that cleaning and disinfection of environmental surfaces be increased. 

Cleaning

  • Cleaning is the removal of organic material such as, soil, food, body fluids or fecal matter, and microorganisms from environmental surfaces using detergent and water.
  • It is the physical action of scrubbing, or friction, and rinsing with water that removes large numbers of organic material and microorganisms from surfaces.
  •  Ensure any residue from soap or detergent is rinsed off prior to disinfection, as it may neutralize the disinfectant.

Disinfection

  • Disinfection inactivates or kills the microorganisms that may be present on environmental surfaces. 
  • Cleaning must be done before disinfection.
  • The recommended disinfection methods include:
    • Using a 1:10 bleach solution (5-6% sodium hypochlorite), allowing for a minimum contact time of 10 minutes. 
    • Using a 0.5% accelerated hydrogen peroxide solution (or diluted 7% solution), allowing for a minimum contact time of 5 minutes.

Important Points to Remember

  • Develop policies, procedures and schedules for cleaning and disinfection.
  • Prepare diluted bleach solutions daily; in small flip-top bottles so that the solution is as effective as possible.
  • Use single use, disposable paper towels for applying and/or wiping up disinfectants.
  • Avoid using aerosol cans or spray bottles for applying cleaning solutions, as this can propel the germs and cleaning solution into the air.
  • Damp dust or mop surfaces to minimize the spread of dust particles.
  • Clean and dry mops and cloths before reusing them.
  • Follow manufacturers’ written recommendations for dilution and contact times of cleaning and disinfecting agents, and Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) guidelines.
  • Clean from the least contaminated area to most contaminated area (i.e. clean sinks, then toilets).
  • Rinse toys thoroughly with water to remove any disinfectant, if indicated on the label.  Some products do not require rinsing and should be left to air dry.
  • Wash hard plastic toys in a commercial dishwasher with a wash cycle between 60° and 70° C (140°-160°F) or wash in a regular dishwasher with a rinse cycle of 82° C (180° F) for at least 10 seconds.
  • Clean common soft surfaces, such as stuffed toys or cloth furnishings, by washing in hot water at 60?C (140?F) and detergent.  Discourage their use, if possible, until absenteeism rates return to normal.
  • Steam clean carpets and area rugs.  Small colour-safe areas may be disinfected using a bleach solution or accelerated hydrogen peroxide, as described above.

For more information or if you have any questions, please call the Ottawa Public Health Outbreak Reporting Line at 613-580-6744 ext 26325.