Considering December is the month when we celebrate Handwashing Awareness and Influenza Vaccination Week, now is the perfect time to discuss all things germy and icky! A common misconception regarding cold and flu season is the belief that it is the cold weather that brings about the onslaught of illnesses. The cold air, however, has little bearing on the spread of germs. The true reason that most children contract colds and flus during the winter months is because this is the time of year when most people are spending much more time inside keeping warm—where we are confined to smaller spaces, touch common surfaces, and breathe recirculated air.
Since children are spending much of their day in school, the spread of germs in classrooms can be of major concern. Teachers and maintenance staff do their best to keep surfaces disinfected; however, there are always additional measures that parents can encourage children to take to keep themselves healthy.
- Parents and teachers should remind children and students of the proper protocol for handwashing. Children often view handwashing as a box that they need to check after using the restroom or playing outside. However, if they are not washing their hands properly, the practice is really futile. Remind children and teens to use soap and warm water while washing vigorously for at least 20 seconds, since friction is a crucial part in removing germs from hands. Tell kids to be sure to wash in between fingers and to include wrists as well. This ensures that any germs from wiping one’s nose on the back of the hand, wrist, or arm are removed. The process might resemble that of a doctor about to scrub in on Grey’s Anatomy, but it is necessary nonetheless. Finally, remind children to use a clean hand towel or paper towel to dry hands thoroughly. If possible, they should try to use paper towel to shut off the faucet and to grab the bathroom door handle. This will help to avoid any germs left on those high-contact surface areas.
- Hand sanitizers and wipes are great options for convenience when a bathroom is not available. However, soap and water are truly the best method for a thorough clean. While hand sanitizers kill germs, they do not necessarily remove the germs, dirt, or other particles from hands.
- Parents should try to pack travel pouches of tissues in backpacks, binders, or lunch boxes to help with runny noses. Because both the cold weather and/or an illness can intensify a runny nose, winter can be the worst time to be left without Kleenex.
- Schools often provide a specific ration of tissues and other cleaning supplies to classrooms; however, when those run out, the burden falls on the teacher to provide these necessary items. Furthermore, most schools prohibit teachers from reaching out to parents for donations because of the initial “back to school supply list” that is supposed to account for items needed throughout the school year. Basically, this means that if items run out during the course of the school year, which is more than likely, teachers cannot ask parents to consider donating to their child’s classroom. If financially possible, parents may want to consider sending a box of tissues, Clorox wipes, hand sanitizer, or paper towels to school with their child as an unsolicited donation—teachers are always appreciative of any supply donation, no matter how small.
- Encourage children to cough and sneeze into a tissue or their elbow instead of their hands, as this will decrease the spread of germs to surfaces.
- If your school will allow it, consider sending your child to school with a water bottle instead of relying on the water fountain. This not only keeps your child hydrated by keeping water at hand all day long, but it also removes one very often contaminated surface—the water fountain. Not only is the hand button likely covered in germs, but the spout could potentially be covered in saliva if students put mouths directly over the water stream.
Finally, please keep children home when they are exhibiting symptoms of a cold or flu-like virus. The onset of symptoms is when children are most contagious, so catching the signs of an illness right away can be key, both for nipping the illness in the bud with rest and hydration and for preventing the spread of germs at school.