Teachers say strict absenteeism rules could spread chickenpox

Asked about the alleged outbreak affecting Maltese schools, MUT president Kevin Bonello pointed out that the virus was as prevalent as it always was at this time of year.

Stricter absenteeism rules might be the cause for chickenpox spreading among schoolchildren, according to the Malta Union of Teachers (MUT), which expressed concern that parents of sick children were sending them to school in spite of their illness, thus causing communicable illnesses to spread more quickly. 

Concerned parents contacted MaltaToday to inform the newspaper that at least three cases of chickenpox had been reported in one class at a boys secondary school.

Asked about the alleged outbreak affecting Maltese schools, MUT president Kevin Bonello pointed out that the virus was as prevalent as it always was at this time of year.

“The main problem we are facing right now is the fact that many children are being sent to school in spite of symptoms that they might have contracted chickenpox,” Bonello said.

Bonello cited misunderstanding of the rules surrounding absenteeism as a possible reason for this situation.

“The recent enforcement of absenteeism rules and the possibility of fines for missing school, might be to blame for the fact that many students are attending school despite any form of illness,” Bonello stressed.

Bonello added that the MUT held that the government should rethink its absenteeism system or at least inform the public about exactly how it works.

“I myself am not clear on how the absenteeism system works with regard to illness, but it seems parents have a murkier idea,” Bonello stressed. 

Following various reports of chickenpox cases in schools, the director of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention within the health ministry, Dr Charmaine Gauci said that the occurrence of chickenpox is often high at this time of year.

“The condition affects children mostly, and the rate of chickenpox so far is within expectations,” Gauci said. 

Gauci explained that chickenpox is a highly contagious illness that causes an itchy rash and red spots or blisters all over the body. 

Chickenpox isn’t deemed a serious health problem in healthy children, but due to its contagious nature, children need to stay home if they are suspected of being infected.

The first symptoms of chickenpox usually develop about 14 to 16 days after contact with a person infected with the virus, and the illness is contagious even before symptoms emerge.  Symptoms include fever, a decreased appetite, a headache, a cough and a sore throat.  The itchy rash usually appears about one or two days after the first symptoms start.

It usually takes about 10 days after the first symptoms before all blisters have crusted over and those affected can return to school or work. 

The government has repeatedly stated that it would take a hard stand against parents who allowed and encouraged absenteeism, as well as doctors who issued unwarranted medical certificates. Last year, it was announced that parents would not get their €400 benefit if their children missed more than nine days of school without justification. It was announced that tribunals could hand out a €7 fine, followed by an additional €2.33 for every failed attendance. 

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