No, I mean, really. I was flabbergasted when I read this article in the San Francisco Chronicle, talking about a substitute teacher who allowed students to share lancets in a science class. This story shocked me on so many levels that I didn’t actually know where to begin when formulating a reaction. And we all know that I dislike children, so that’s saying something.
Needle sharing has been condemned for over twenty years as a common vector of disease transmission. Many viruses can live in the blood for a surprisingly long time, and therefore medical professionals are required to use a fresh, sterilized needle on every patient. Furthermore, each time a needle is used it dulls. Therefore, needle reuse can be painful, because a dull needle causes far more pain than a sharp one. Those two things, right there, are a really good reason not to share needles, ever, especially when they are cheap and available.
For an education professional to violate such a basic precept of disease protocol is shocking. Most teachers are extensively trained in HIV/AIDS prevention, and are committed to the health of the minors in their charge. Part of infection training includes the risks of exposure to bodily fluids, and sharing a lancet will certainly result in shared body fluids. Parents trust schools and teachers to provide a safe environment for their children to learn in, and I’m sure this news report was chilling to the bone for a large number of parents.
Needles shouldn’t have been used in that classroom at all, due to the inherent risk which opening up wounds provides. Open wounds do not belong in the classroom, kiddos! Most people remember looking at cheek cells under a microscope, and remember the lesson as a fun and interesting look at the human body. Taking cheek swabs is very easy for a student to perform, and carries a much smaller risk than drawing blood. I simply cannot comprehend why this substitute thought it was acceptable to expose anyone to such danger, and cannot help but think that either the decision was deliberate or the teacher was under the influence. This is the sort of thing which should be common sense: no one should have to tell an education professional that ou students should not be allowed to share needles.
Furthermore, most seventh grade students should be aware enough to speak out in a situation like this. Blind obedience to adults is never a good course of action, especially when your health is at risk. One of the students should have objected during the class session, instead of waiting to tell mother later, and parents need to inform their children that they are allowed to take any measure necessary, including defying an adult to protect their personal health and safety.
While the region may have low rates of blood borne disease, these diseases could still be present. If the parents and children are fortunate, blood testing will confirm that all of the children are negative for any blood borne pathogens. If a child is infected with something, however, the wait could be six weeks to six months before the rest of the children will be safe. This incident may have ruined the substitute’s career, but the fact that it might ruin a young adult’s life is tragic.
Furthermore, the school is not behaving in a professional manner, only telling parents to take their children to the pediatrician. The school should be providing blood testing and monitoring for a period of up to six months to ensure that nothing has been transmitted in this foolhardy incident. Not only is this ethically responsible, but it also allows the school to determine the source of infection, if an infection is identified. For example, if one of the students has Hepatitis the disease could be genotyped, so that if additional students get Hepatitis, epidemiologists can determine whether the HCV+ child infected others in the class. I hope that the state steps in in this case to supervise, since the school has clearly lost control.
Infection prevention is a really important thing, especially in environments where hundreds of people could potentially be exposed. Parents should not have to be afraid to send their children to school, and children should be taught to stand up for themselves. Shame on that anonymous teacher, shame on the school, and shame on the parents for not raising independent, thinking children.