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DPH Fosters New School Infectious Diseases Rule

September 3, 2013

Originally published November 11, 2011

When 1.7 million students enter Georgia classrooms, the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Georgia Department of Education (DOE) want to ensure that teachers, students and staff know how to respond to the potential threat of infectious diseases. The two state agencies recently worked together to develop the new State Board of Education Infectious Diseases Rule to reflect today’s public health issues. The new rule replaces ambiguous, outdated, and misleading language with terms recognized and utilized by public health experts.

The new rule sets the guidelines for monitoring health, detecting and investigating infectious diseases. Under the new rule, the local education agency (LEA) can now develop policies and training for staff; provide personal protective equipment; counsel teachers, parents, and/or students for medical evaluation; consult with school nurses, public health representatives, health care professionals, and school system administrators; and protect the disclosure of health-related information of about employees and students.

The old communicable diseases rule, which was originally adopted in 1990, dealt with educating school officials about students with HIV or AIDS. DPH’s Health Protection Division provided an expanded list of infectious diseases.

"The primary concern in our schools is to ensure all students, faculty, and administrators are protected from illnesses that can interrupt student learning and school activities," said State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge, Ed.D. "Our schools work closely with our dedicated school nurses to educate staff, parents, and students about ways to stay healthy and prevent the spread of germs and viruses."

"Thousands of students depend on Public Health to keep them safe in the event that students have symptoms that can cause the closure of schools or the need to disinfect the school setting," said J. Patrick O'Neal, MD, Director of the Division of Health Protection. "It’s our job to protect and educate citizens to minimize the spread of germs and diseases from one person to another in schools and childcare centers."

With the necessary vaccines and health precautions, students are protected from infectious diseases that can occur in schools and childcare settings, such as influenza, chickenpox, meningitis, strep throat, and pertussis. Diseases with gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea) can be transmitted directly from one person to another or through food or other inanimate objects according to DPH’s Infectious Disease Unit.

“We remind teachers to encourage proper hand washing, as well as covering the mouth or nose when coughing or sneezing,” Dr. O’Neal said. “Good hand washing can prevent the spread of diseases to toys, tabletops, doors, faucets, and toilet handles.”

School officials spoke with PHWEEK last week and advised that the communicable diseases rule was extremely outdated given today's medical treatment and advancements. Instead of amending the communicable diseases rule, the State Board repealed it altogether.

Under the new state rule and policy, students will receive information, education, or training related to infectious diseases, including transmission, risk education, and standard precautions according to the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Employees and students will understand what to do to prevent the transmission of infectious diseases.

Dr. Barge says, "We’re fortunate to have school nurses, state and local public health officials, healthcare professionals, and school system administrators to keep our students safe and in a productive learning environment.”

“We all earn high scores when we make our schools and childcare centers healthy environments for optimal learning and growing,” said Dr. O’Neal.

The new State Board of Education Infectious Diseases Rule is available at https://eboard.eboardsolutions.com/Meetings/Attachment.aspx?S=1262&AID=328359&MID=21829.