This May will mark the tenth year of Kleenex Tissues SneezeSafe, a lesson in flu-hygiene for primary and intermediate school kids throughout New Zealand. Using glitter, bubbles, and water spray, children learn how far and fast untrapped sneeze droplets travel through the air for others to breathe.
The lesson, while designed to be fun, also aims to encourage good hygiene and stop bad habits before they start. It responds to the ‘Personal Health and Physical Development’ and ‘Healthy Communities and Environments’ strands of the national health curriculum.
Initiatives like SneezeSafe appear to be working. After one of New Zealand’s lighter flu seasons on record last winter, virologist Dr Lance Jennings says the combined strategy of government-funded flu vaccinations for the elderly, other people who are at increased risk, and vulnerable areas like Christchurch, along with health education in schools, is working.
“Last year levels stayed below the baseline and we saw fewer hospitalisations from respiratory complications affecting children and the elderly. I believe the cumulative effect of the SneezeSafe lesson in schools is playing a part in helping keep the incidence of flu in check.”
Public health nurse leader, Jetty Grant from Waikato DHB, has been involved in the programme and says it has been “really well received by kids and by teachers”.
Grant says she would like to see more programmes of this variety used to address other health concerns at school, like child obesity, for example. She says that while there are programmes out there, it would appear that more needs to be done to educate children about healthy eating.
25 schools who register early at www.sneezesafe.co.nz will be selected to receive a special teaching kit.