School Nurse offers advice for cold and flu season

Christie El-Shishini, MSN, CPNP-PC, serves as the full-time nurse for Saint Henry School (6401 Harding Pike, Nashville). Most of what she encounters are ailments like headache, congestion, stomachaches and discomfort from an injury. Each day, she is also responsible for administering care to students with specific medical diagnoses, such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, asthma, severe allergies, seizure disorders, and ADHD.

Full-time school nurses are rare these days. Christie’s role functions as a liaison between school personnel, health care professionals, families and the community, so there is frequent communication with parents, referrals to physicians and supervision of individualized health care plans for many students. In addition, she ensures mandated health screenings have been completed, verifies the completion of immunizations, and promotes a healthy school environment. There are, however, certain limitations of the role. Assessment and care must be within the scope of professional nursing practice. There are mandatory forms that must be completed for students to receive medications and certain prescribed nursing care in the school clinic. As the case manager for students, the school nurse is charged with the task to ensure that there is adequate communication and collaboration among the family, physicians and providers of community resources.

With the pending cold and flu season, we had the opportunity to catch up with her recently and she offers some great advice for parents and children, but most of her advice is adaptable even in office settings.

What can you tell us about the flu strain this year?
The center for Disease Control (CDC) is an important reference when seeking information about the flu. Getting an annual flu vaccine is an important step in protecting yourself and your family from the flu virus. It is not possible to predict what the flu season will be like this year. Although the flu spreads every year, the timing, severity, and length of season vary with each year and specific locations.

What risks are associated with flu?
Certain populations are at greatest risks for complications from the flu virus. Children younger than five years of age and adults over age 65 are in a higher risk group. Also at increased risk are pregnant women, people who live in long-term care facilities, people with chronic diseases, and anyone with a weakened immune system. The flu virus can sometimes weaken the lungs, allowing bacterial infection to develop. This can lead to complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis and sinusitis.

Since flu often begins with vague symptoms that are also found in common colds, stomach viruses, and pneumonia, are there things parents/volunteers/educators can look for early-on to determine if they need to seek professional medical attention?
Flu complications in children are a definite risk. There are certain symptoms that would serve as warning signs that a child could be developing complications from the flu. Some of these include: high fever, fast breathing or increased work of breathing, confusion, listlessness, nausea and vomiting. If there is concern that your child has any sign or symptom of a flu complication, they should seek medical attention right away.

If the child is diagnosed with flu, what are some things to help make the child more comfortable during treatment? Are there home remedies to help break the fever? (Note: this is assuming that they are also on a prescription at this point, so these are supportive measures of a treatment plan, not in lieu of)
If diagnosed with the flu, there are actions that can be taken to ease the symptoms: take over-the-counter medication (aspirin should not be given without physician approval for children below 16 years of age), drink a lot of fluids, and get plenty of rest.

Give us your top six preventive measures to help children survive the cold and flu season:

  1. Vaccinate your child annually with the flu vaccine – the CDC recommends the flu shot as the best way to protect yourself and family from the flu virus
  2. Hand washing, frequently and correctly – Use soap and warm water when possible, hand gels can be used if necessary
  3. Clean shared surfaces often –this includes kitchen counters, bathrooms, phones, tv remotes, computer keypads, door handles, sink and refrigerator handles.
  4. Get out of the habit of touching your eyes, nose and mouth whenever possible – your hands will spread the germs you have come in contact with that may be contaminated with the flu.
  5. Eat a healthy diet and get plenty of rest. This is a good tip for helping to ensure your health throughout the entire year, but is especially important during flu season.
  6. Making good choices – if you know there is someone in the family not feeling well, try to keep them away from other people who are healthy (examples: no sibling play dates or friend get-togethers when someone in the group/household is not feeling well).

Click here for more information about Saint Henry School.

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