Young children catch about eight colds a year. Combined, they lose nearly 22 million school days due to the common cold alone. With so many children in one place and sharing supplies, it's no wonder that the classroom can be a breeding ground for the germs that cause colds and flu. Odds are your child will be bringing home more than homework this school year.
Even teachers say more needs to be done to make our classrooms cleaner and healthier for children. A whopping 92 percent of teachers say that regular disinfecting in classrooms can result in fewer absences caused by illness and 96 percent of them believe more can be done to make classrooms cleaner and healthier places for our children, according to a survey presented at a news briefing by the American Medical Association.
Here are 10 tips to stop germs at school:
Ask your child to wash her or his hands frequently throughout the day.
Use warm, soapy water and rub vigorously for at least 20 seconds -- about the amount of time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" twice, suggests Paul Horowitz, MD, the medical director of pediatric clinics at Legacy Health System in Portland, Ore.
"We can't stress this enough when it comes to keeping colds and flu away," he says. "Avoid eating or touching your eyes, nose, and mouth without washing your hands first."
Verify the hand-washing policy of staff.
For many families, daycare is essential. When choosing a facility, be sure to check into the daycare facility's hand-washing policy, the actual hand-washing practices, and the availability of sinks, says Neil Schachter, M.D., medical director of respiratory care at Mount Sinai in New York City, and the author of "The Good Doctor's Guide to Colds and Flu." It really works. Research out of Purdue University Calumet in Hammond, Ind., found that instructional programs on germs and hand washing in childcare centers reduced the spread of infectious diseases during peak cold and flu season.
Ask your child to avoid the community pencil sharpener.
Studies have shown that the dirtiest thing in any classroom is the community pencil sharpener, says Charles Gerba, Ph.D., a professor of microbiology at University of Arizona in Tucson. Send children with a personal pencil sharpener or mechanical pencils.
Ask your child to wipe down common surfaces with disinfectant.
"In a school setting these include drinking fountain handles, water faucets in sinks, light switches, paper towel dispensers, handles, and doorknobs," says Horowitz. "Some of the surfaces are neglected and we don't appreciate what [germs] live on there and how long they can live." he says. Ask to make sure surfaces are being cleaned regularly. Research presented at a media briefing by the American Medical Association showed that nearly 50 percent of those teachers surveyed report they regularly clean and disinfect their classrooms
Ask your child to carefully wipe down desks and keyboards.
Research done at the University of Arizona found that desk surfaces, computer keyboards, and computer mouses ranked high in levels of five bacteria:
But when office workers were told to clean their desk with disinfecting wipes, bacterial levels were reduced by 99 percent. "Send your child to school with disposable wipes so he or she can clean off their desk at the end of the day and before and after lunch if they eat at their desk," Gerba says.
Send functional tissues to school with your child.
"The latest trend in tissues are virucidal tissues," says Schachter.
These tissues prevent the spread of viruses around the house because it kills them when you blow your nose." Encourage you child to cover his nose or mouth when sneezing or coughing and after using a tissue, throw it away."
Also, sneeze into tissues and cough into your elbow instead of your hands.
"When you sneeze or cough into your hands, you could easily spread germs when you touch a surface," he says.
Tell your child not to borrow crayons.
"Have your own box of crayons as all inanimate objects passed form one person to another are potentially germ carriers," Schachter says. "Each child should have their own art supplies if possible."
Ask the teacher to make sure community toys are clean.
"You can wash stuffed animals in the washing machine weekly during cold and flu season," Schachter says. "Plastic toys such as Legos can be washed with soap and water and board game surfaces can be wiped down with disinfecting wipes." Horowitz adds: "Kids are touching everything including parts of their own body that may be contaminated and then touching toys or mouthing them and then sharing them with playmates."
Ask your child to hang his or her backpack in the restroom.
"The bottom of women's purses are pretty bad," says Charles Gerba, Ph.D., a professor of microbiology at University of Arizona in Tucson. "About 25 percent have fecal bacteria because women put it down on the toilet floor in restroom," he explains. "Encourage your son or daughter to hang their backpack on a hook if they take it to the school restroom."
Ask if the teacher can use a special air filter to keep air clean.
"High-efficiency particulate-arresting (HEPA) filters, available at discount drug stores for about $40 to $100, can remove 99.97 percent of the pollen, dust, animal dander, and even bacteria from the air," Schachter says.
Suggest one to the teacher if it is not already being used. "Proper
ventilation is also important, so open windows and doors to let fresh air in and circulate the air whenever possible."
Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario
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