With the start of school, I knew it was inevitable that our young family would be stricken with a stomach bug or cold virus, but it happened much earlier than I expected. Only 7 days into the 2015-2016 school year and my kindergartener came home holding his head, complaining of a headache, and found to have a temperature of 101.2. Viruses thrive among the elementary population. With their young immune systems and not-so-perfectly clean play habits, young kids are prime targets. Good clean hand washing can help keep these unwelcome organisms from spreading. But what about washing with hand sanitizers? Our school has hand sanitizers in every classroom, but do they work? Are they as effective as washing with soap and water? I did a little research and reviewed CDC guidelines. As it turns out, it is not so much about the method, but the quality and vigor of washing hands that matters. Washing with soap and water (completing this task perfectly by scrubbing all surfaces more than 20 seconds) is more effective, but kids (and adults) often don’t wash long enough or work up an effective lather. However, studies show that hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol) does help reduce the number of absences from school due to illness. Hand sanitizer is effective because that big gob (ideally at least the size of a dime), encourages more rubbing and scrubbing. The friction from rubbing the sanitizer helps destroy viruses. So, stay calm and pump on! Encourage your children to rub for a good 20 seconds (they can sing Happy Birthday two full times or the ABC song). Tell your kids to make sure they rub and scrub, whether they use sanitizer or soap and water.
Other ways to decrease the spread of germs and stop the back to school bugs include:
Reminding kids not to touch eyes, mouth or nose.
Packing ‘touch-free’ snacks/foods – bananas, yogurt tubes, applesauce pouches, foods which can be eaten with a spoon, fork, or toothpick, etc.
Thoroughly clean reusable snack containers and sandwich boxes.
Wipe down lunch boxes inside and out (handles, zipper pulls, etc.).
Showing kids how to cough or sneeze into their arm.
Reminding kids to wash their hands after coughing or sneezing.
Advocating for effective hand washing methods at your child’s school
Donating hand sanitizer for the classroom.
Keeping kids home if they have a fever or other symptoms (per your school’s policy).
Talking with your kids about the importance of good hand washing (see educational resources below).
Sometimes despite our best efforts – kids will be kids and kids will get sick. Upon realizing my kid was sick, I reluctantly pinned up my ‘To Do’ list for another day and snuggled in. We sat on the couch watching a movie, with flavored water and crackers in hand.