Watch CBS News

Germs in the School Room

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, MD, 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.

Send your child equipped with mechanical pencils.

Studies have shown that the dirtiest thing in any classroom is the community
pencil sharpener, says Charles Gerba, PhD, a professor of microbiology at
University of Arizona in Tucson. "Pack mechanical pencils in your child's
school supplies so he or she doesn't have to use it."

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% of those
teachers surveyed report they regularly clean and disinfect their classrooms

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:

  • E. coli

  • Klebsiella pneumonia

  • Streptococcus

  • Salmonella

  • Staphylococcus aureus

But when office workers were told to clean their desk with disinfecting
wipes, bacterial levels were reduced by 99%. "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.

Don't 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."

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 everythig including parts of
their own body that may be contaminated and then touching toys or mouthing them
and then sharing them with playmates."

Hang your backpack in the restroom.

"The bottom of women's purses are pretty bad," says Charles Gerba, PhD,
a professor of microbiology at University of Arizona in Tucson. "About 25%
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

"High-efficiency particulate-arresting (HEPA) filters, available at
discount drug stores for about $40 to $100, can remove 99.97% 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
©2005-2006 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.