Fight against killer germs all in a day's work for teacher on Auckland's North Shore
Debbie Pratt, a teacher on Auckland's North Shore, is a special agent.
It was revealed to her pupils at St Joseph's School in Takapuna on Tuesday that she was an agent in the fight against germs, which can kill hundreds of Kiwis each year.
Pratt's class of 5-year-olds were the first in the country to have SneezeSafe lessons this year, a free programme developed by tissue-makers Kleenex.
They were visited by two SneezeSafe agents, shown how germs spread around when they sneeze and were asked to take on the mission of fighting germs.
The children were taught the best way to sneeze safely: Trap it! Bin it! Wash It! This includes trapping the sneeze with a tissue, hands or elbow, binning the tissue and then washing hands.
The youngsters were also encouraged to take the message home to their family, including parents.
Pratt said the SneezeSafe lesson was very user-friendly and easy to teach. But having the agents visit gave the event an added excitement.
During the winter cold and flu season, up to six children could be away sick at any one time - showing how important it was to control the spread of germs, she said.
"Because it spreads so easily, it rotates through … It's very disruptive to their learning and also it makes it quite difficult to plan for everybody at the same time."
Virologist Dr Lance Jennings urged adults to follow the lead of the children and remember to Trap it! Bin it! Wash it!
An average of 400 people died in New Zealand each year from the flu, either directly or indirectly, and more than 2000 were hospitalised.
Jennings said although vaccination was the best protection against the flu, it did not work on its own.
Good flu hygiene practice was part of the National Influenza Specialist Group's strategy to limit the spread of flu, he said.
In a Colmar Brunton survey commissioned by Kleenex, it was found 55 per cent of Kiwi adults always covered their sneezes, a 19 per cent increase since 2013.
But Jennings said 45 per cent still did not cover their sneezes, potentially propelling live infectious flu particles into the air.