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HIV awareness

Q We have a child in our primary school who is HIV positive. What steps should we be taking to safeguard everyone?

A This is an issue that requires schools to have clear policies and procedures. Talk to health and education authority advisory staff to make sure guidance is being followed.

Most HIV positive children have contracted the virus from their mothers during pregnancy, or at birth. Or through receiving infected blood products. Following infection a child may have no symptoms for several years.

Apart from the known carriers, there are those who may have the virus but remain undiagnosed. This means that all school staff have to assume there are HIV positive children in their care. There is no increased risk of transmission from normal contact, sharing toilet facilities, eating utensils, or head lice. However, HIV can be transmitted through skin lesions.

To create a safe environment, everybody in school should be aware of the risks from blood and what to do when an accident happens. This will mean training and updating for all staff. Disposable gloves should be worn when dealing with nose bleeds, grazed knees or lost teeth, and so on, and spilled blood treated with bleach. Gloves and soiled dressings should be disposed of in a separate bin. Schools are not permitted to exclude children with HIV or treat them differently from others: this is achieved by following the hygiene policy.

Families with HIV suffer emotional stress and often have complex problems.

Your school may provide an atmosphere of calm, predictability and stability, as well as an opportunity to share some of the feelings and concerns. You will feel more confident with the support of social work colleagues, psychologists and child and adolescent mental health practitioners.

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