MORE THAN 800,000 students return to school today amid warnings to protect themselves against swine flu, and ahead of talks on how schools will make up for days lost because of the cold snap.
Health authorities have told schools that they play a critical role in preventing the spread of such contagious diseases.
In recent weeks, there has been a major rise in people being treated for flu-like illnesses, of which swine flu is the predominant virus this winter.
And there are fears that infection rates could increase once large numbers of children return to school after the extended Christmas break.
Schools have been told of the importance of practising good hand hygiene, by washing often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing.
Hand-drying facilities at schools should not be shared, with the exception of electric hand dryers and roller towels of the type that allow for a clean section to be pulled out for each use, according to HSE guidelines. Schools may ask staff and students to bring in their own hand towels.
If children don't have access to hand-washing facilities, parents have been told to give them an alcohol hand gel to use.
Teachers are also being asked to ensure that pupils do not share pens, crayons or wind instruments.
The HSE advises that teachers and students suffering flu should stay at home for seven days from when the symptoms began.
Schools are re-opening today after suffering serious disruption since the end of November because of snow and ice. Many schools were forced to shut for between four and 12 days in the last four weeks of the term because of the conditions.
Talks are to take place this week on how schools that were badly hit by the weather should make up lost tuition time.
There is particular concern about the impact of the December disruption on more than 100,000 Leaving and Junior Cert students.