So schools have been back for a couple of weeks and routines have been re-established. Sadly those routines get challenged when kids need to take time off school due to illness and working parents often struggle managing the work home commitments. According to the Centre for Disease Control in the USA, primary school children get on average 8-12 cold or flu episodes each year. Teachers and parents commonly call this “ the back to school plague”.
Why? Schools are often perfect places for germs to flourish- what one paediatrician calls a germ candystore. The confined space of the classroom is a perfect medium for “coughs and sneezes to spread diseases”.
However there are some simple rules to instil in your children with the aim of reducing their risks of infection ie germ proofing your kids. We have come up with a list of 7 simple rules:
Rule 1. Be careful at the water bubbler/fountain
Paediatrician Dr Harley Rotbart has written a book on germ-proofing children in order to reduce infection. He states that the number one source of germs in schools is not the toilets but the water bubbler. It may not get disinfected as regularly as the toilets and small kids often put their mouths on the fountain itself. To reduce your risks the water should be run a little first before drinking or preferably use your own water drink bottle. Finally, remind your kids not to share their water bottles!
Rule 2. Clean your hands properly before eating
Some schools tell their pupils to wash their hands before eating but not all schools do this. Teach your children to wash or use a hand sanitiser before they pick up food and eat: at home, at school and out and about.
Properly-washed hands reduce the occurrence of stomach problems such as vomiting and diarrhoea. Studies in the USA showed that only 28% of children know how to wash their hands properly. A simple trick is to sing the “Happy birthday to you” song twice while washing. This helps ensure that your kids will wash their hands for at least 20 seconds. They should also make sure they clean between their fingers and under their fingernails, and use a clean paper towel or dryer to dry off. Washing with soap and water is superior to hand sanitiser if done properly.
Rule 3. Ensure the eating area is clean
Schools manage eating areas and try to keep them clean. However with the numbers of children in coming and out of the eating area, it can be challenging to keep things completely germ free. Children should eat from their own boxes or trays and avoid putting their food directly on tables.
Rule 4. Hand covering for coughs and sneezes
Teaching children to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze reduces their chances of spreading germs. Germs can travel up to 3 metres with a simple sneeze! It can be a good idea to stock tissues in your child’s school bag. Teach them to use tissues for all coughs and sneezes and then bin the tissue straightaway, as hands transfer germs to every surface they touch.
Rule 5. Don’t believe the ten-second rule!
Many people follow the so-called ten-second rule which alleges that food is still safe to eat if it has fallen to the floor, provided that you picked it up within ten seconds. Very few studies have looked specifically at its validity, and those that have been done give conflicting results. This is because it all depends on how well cleaned the floor is, the food type and whether the food can be washed once it falls on the floor. To date it would appear that if the floor is not clean and microorganisms are present, they will transfer in less than 10 seconds. So judge your response based on what you know about the environment in which you are dining. If you have any doubt and maybe while at school your kids should just throw the fallen food away.
Rule 6. Vaccinate your kids!
Vaccines used in Australia are safe and must pass strict safety testing on thousands of individuals in large clinical trials before being approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). In addition, the TGA monitors the safety of vaccines once they are in use. It is important to keep your children’s vaccinations up to date to prevent these severe communicable diseases that caused significant health issues in the previous century.
Whooping cough (bordetella pertussis) is a highly infectious respiratory illness that can cause severe illness. Severe bouts of coughing can cause vomiting, rib fractures, rupture of small blood vessels and hernias. About 1 in 125 babies aged less than 6 months who catch whooping cough die from pneumonia or brain damage. The good news is that all children are vaccinated against whooping cough, and that the vaccine is safe. But the bad news is that immunity wears off with time. So as well as vaccinating your kids, ask your GP whether you need a booster too.
The vaccine against Chickenpox is a single dose vaccine that is given up to the age of 14. Once diagnosed with chickenpox a child is infectious 2 days before the appearance of the rash and at least 5 days after the rash when it has scabbed over. If adults or pregnant women acquire this virus it can have more serious consequences, so vaccinating your child helps others too.
Rotavirus causes significant diarrhoea, and since teh rotavirus vaccine was introduced there has been a 70% reduction in hospital admissions with gastroenteritis. Vaccination is performed only once, at younger than 6 months age.
Rule 7. Prevent Head Lice
Head lice are the curse of most preschools and primary schools, because younfg children are in close contact with each other sharing hats, hair bows or bands. Mechanical removal (wet fine combing) is the mainstay of treatment coupled with chemical treatment. However key factors to reduce infestation are:
Teach your child not to share items that touch the head like combs or towels
Avoid activities that lead to head to head contact.
Tie your child’s hair up preferably into plaits/braids.
Regular examination of your child’s hair and scalp thereby allowing quick treatment.
According to the Mayo Clinic, more research is needed to prove whether certain chemicals prevent lice eg tea tree, eucalyptus or citronella. Hence none of these products are endorsed for this indication by the Therapeutic Goods Of Australia or the Food and Drug Administration in the US.
In the end, there is no 100% guarantee that your children won’t get sick during the school term. Remember that you too as parents need to follow these simple rules at home especially when your kids are sick. Good personal hygiene and regular cleaning of surfaces is key to reducing transmission, but as a busy parent try not to become obsessed, crazy and more exhausted!