The timing for introducing a "stay healthy in winter" programme for schoolchildren throughout Hawke's Bay could not have been better.

Frosts settled over wide parts of the region early Monday morning and snow fell to low levels in parts of Dannevirke and the lower levels of the Ruahine Range last weekend - the first taste of wintry weather and potentially the first taste of getting a chill for some youngsters.

However, through the use of bubbles, glitter and a spot of mist, youngsters can learn to keep colds at bay through the SneezeSafe Healthy Classrooms Programme, which has kicked off for its 10th year at hundreds of schools throughout the region and nationwide.

For the youngsters at Meeanee School yesterday there were important and healthy lessons to be learnt, such as how to trap a germ-soaked sneeze, how to carefully bin tissues and how to wash hands effectively.


Or, in the punchline of the SneezeSafe approach: "Trap it, bin it and wash it."

Meeanee School principal Gillian Scarlett said the school ran the programme a couple of years ago and noticed an improvement in the way the children approached health issues associated with winter-borne sneezes and runny noses.

So it was decided to run it again and yesterday the 40 junior school children, under the direction of their teachers, went through the glitter and bubble routines.

"The programme is very good and we will be doing the seniors in a week's time," she said.

The programme, launched by Kleenex in 2005, uses sparkly green glitter as make-believe flu virus particles on unwashed hands and bubbles are sent floating through the air like flu droplets.

Posters and introductory letters to parents are also sent out and a special website has been set up.

More than 1600 teachers and nurses nationwide have already visited the site and set up programmes.

Leading virologist Dr Lance Jennings said the programmes were an effective way of getting the "stay healthy" message through to children, who were most susceptible to winter illnesses.

He said the most common way for people to get the flu was by breathing in infectious particles "that have been sprayed into the air from someone's uncovered sneeze or cough".

Health figures show young people aged 5 to 19 are most at risk. An average of 1051 per 100,000 young people require influenza-related treatment, followed by one to four-year-olds at 641 per 100,000 and adults aged 35 to 49 at 544 per 100,000.