August 7, 1992

Children Can Be Hazardous To Your Health

When little Willie came to nursery school with a cough and a running nose, teacher knew just what to do. She put on her mask and surgeons gloves, picked Willie up by his ears and dropped him into a large plastic bag. She then took the bag to the custodian who incinerated it as directed by the State Department of Education.

Student teachers are rarely informed of the major hazard of the teaching profession, which is that they will be exposed to almost every contagious disease known to man. The little snots are a hotbed of diseases. If it were possible to inoculate all school children against every virus disease known, most contagious diseases would soon disappear from the face of the earth. That is what was done with smallpox, measles and polio.

Some day the teacher's unions will wise up and demand that teachers get workman's compensation for contracting infectious diseases, since they constitute as real an occupational hazard as being cut by a power saw is a hazard for carpenters, being struck by falling trees and cut by a chain saw are to a logger and getting tennis elbow is to tennis players.

When a little child hands a teacher a cookie that she has prepared with her own little hands, it is reasonable to expect the teacher to eat it, no matter what it tastes like. It shouldn't matter to her that it is probably loaded with pinworm eggs and whatever virus the kid happens to have at the moment. There are hundreds of common cold viruses, and a wide variety of other viruses and, in the course of his life, the child will pick up many of them and transmit them to anyone he comes in contact with. These people include his fellow pupils, parents and teachers.

It is reasonable to expect a logger to protect his eyes and head from injury, but it is unreasonable to expect him to wear full armor. In the same way, we try to protect the kids and teachers against the more serious diseases such as measles and polio and to let the child's and teacher's body take care of the rest.

The important question is what are "reasonable" precautions in any occupation. A helmet is reasonable for horse and bicycle riders. Eye protection for all wood and metal workers is reasonable as is a hard hat for construction workers and bald home mechanics.

Now, along comes AIDS which, so far as I know, is the only almost 100% fatal communicable disease of man. Fortunately, it is preventable through safe sex or no sex, sterilizing hypodermic needles and being careful not to get blood or semen into a cut or abrasion. People who work in emergency rooms are at increased risk of getting AIDS. The risk is relatively small only because a small percentage of people are carrying the virus which causes AIDS. That will change as the number of infected people increases.

While the risk of getting AIDS from a schoolchild is very very small, the consequences are lethal. You don't get a second chance to be careful. It is analogous to the steel worker who builds skyscrapers. He is only allowed one misstep and he will never make a mistake again. The same applies to parachutists, whose motto is if at first you don't succeed, never mind.

The key to protecting your life is knowledge: knowing where the dangers are. If a teacher or health worker knew who had AIDS, she would be able to protect herself.

Teachers are now provided with gloves in case of an accident involving bleeding, which they probably wouldn't have time to use in a real emergency. They are NOT provided with the the information that they need in order to protect themselves. That information is whether a child or a colleague is carrying the AIDS virus.

In a well-meaning effort to protect the AIDS victim from discrimination, governments have also deprived teachers and health care workers of the knowledge that can be the means of protecting their own lives.

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