Everybody seems to have an opinion about germs – what causes them, where they’re located, how to avoid them – especially when it comes to children.
Experts say that American children miss 22 million days of school annually due to colds, flu and other infections.
“Avoiding germs at schools isn’t as simple as just washing your hands in the bathroom or sneezing into your sleeve,” says Charles Gerba, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and environmental sciences at the University of Arizona. “Germs are on everything kids touch in the classroom, as well as around the hallways, cafeteria and playground.”
With this in mind, it is important to separate facts from myths about germs in schools.
• Fact: Desks Are Among the Most Germ-Prone Items. It’s true! Students spend most of the day at their desks – sneezes, coughs and all – and, in some schools, they often switch classrooms and share desks with others. At the end of the day, students bring home that cocktail of germs to their families.
• Myth: Any Hand Sanitizer Will Do. According to research from the University of Colorado at Boulder, people carry an average of 3,200 bacteria on their hands. While most hand sanitizers are 99.9 percent effective at killing germs, some only last for a few minutes or until the application dries on the skin. Therefore, parents should consider applying hand sanitizers for their children that last throughout the day.
• Fact: Germs Can Affect Kids Outside the Classroom. Germs in schools aren’t just isolated to classrooms. They are everywhere, including cafeteria trays, playground jungle gyms and sports equipment. In fact, the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine found 63 percent of gym equipment is contaminated with rhinovirus, which causes the common cold. Reminding children to wash their hands before and after using these items (and wiping them down) will go a long way toward preventing sickness.
• Myth: Sticking Things in Your Mouth is Child’s Play. Sure, curiosity might drive preschoolers to stick items in their mouths that don’t belong. However, older students who nervously chew on pen caps, especially ones they borrow from classmates, or on their own fingernails during tough tests, are susceptible to picking up the germs that are traversing through school.
• Fact: Backpacks Carry More Than Just Books. Backpacks go everywhere – to classrooms, inside lockers, in the cafeteria, in locker rooms – and collect various germs throughout the day. Periodically clean backpacks inside and out. And make sure lunches and other food items, as well as gym clothes, are packed in separate bags to avoid cross-contamination of germs.
• Myth: Sharing is Always Caring. Just about every school supply – from pens and pencils to headphones to sport jerseys – can be a vehicle for harmful bacteria. Make sure children are armed with their own items, including mechanical pencils to avoid using the classroom’s pencil sharpener, and avoid sharing their supplies with classmates.
When it comes to germs, separating myths from facts can help you have a happier, healthier school year.