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August 30, 2012

Clean classrooms make healthy kids

Schools and parents should work together to stop the spread of germs, experts say

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

As the back-to-school season nears, parents get ready for the onset of earlier bedtimes, homework and backpacks full of school supplies. The season also brings back sticky hands, sneezes and tummy aches. Kids are notorious for spreading germs, but there are plenty of things parents can do to protect their children as they head back to class.

Kathleen Williams, of Troy, is a junior kindergarten teacher at Planet Kids Premier Academy in Clarkston. She’s also a mother of three young children. Williams said she uses the same tactics at home and at school to keep kids germ-free, and it’s all about making cleanup time fun for the little ones.

“As a teacher and a mommy, I have always been diligent on having my kids sneeze into the bend in the elbow, especially if they don’t have a tissue readily available. When they wash their hands, I tell them to sing the alphabet song. Then they know they’ve spent enough time getting germs off their hands.”

Williams said she keeps boxes of tissue around her house and her classroom, along with fun sanitary products like Kandoo soap, which produces a kid-friendly foam to scrub little hands.

Niki Mach agrees that hand-washing is an essential step in keeping children from contracting cold and flu germs. As the communicable disease surveillance specialist at the Macomb County Health Department, she said that proper hand washing can ward off most illnesses commonly spread around classrooms.

“Statistics say 80 percent of all infectious diseases are transmitted by touch. Kids tend to touch their mouth, face and nose, and that’s the route of transmission of flu viruses out there. To decrease any risk of infections and diseases, that’s the single most important thing you can do to prevent illnesses, especially during flu season.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people wash their hands for at least 15 seconds under warm water with soap to get the most out of hand-washing.

Williams said that classroom cleanliness goes beyond hands, though. She said it’s up to parents and teachers to work together to keep surfaces clean at home and at school.

“I use a lot of disinfectant wipes when cleaning tables, doorknobs and shelves every day. We have parents donate them,” she said, as schools aren’t always able to supply enough sanitizing products for everyday use. “We also have super clean Fridays. I give the students baby wipes, and they wipe down everything. They love it. And they use hand sanitizer before lunch and snack.”

According to Mach, it’s hard to say just how many students get sick each year while at school. While the 2011-12 average for Macomb County school and day care facilities showed an average of around 1 percent of students catching the flu, that number only reflects students whose parents actually reported to the school that their child’s absence was specifically due to the flu.

“There’s no definitive diagnosis saying it’s flu; we don’t have a very specific case definition. It could be the flu or just another virus. These numbers are really rough, because some schools or maybe even parents call in to us; some describe illnesses and some don’t.”

No matter what the illness, though, Mach and Williams both agree it’s imperative that parents keep their children home when they suspect they’re coming down with a contagious illness.

“If your kids are sick, keep them home,” said Williams. “You’d be surprised at how many parents send their children to school knowing they are sick. Teach them how to blow their nose before coming to kindergarten, (and) keep them home if they have a fever or are vomiting.”

According to the CDC website, reported cases of influenza traditionally peak in February, though outbreaks can happen as early as October each year. Mach said that up-to-date vaccines are an important factor in keeping school-age children from getting a range of diseases, including getting an annual flu shot.

For more information, including vaccinations and recommendations for the 2012-13 influenza season, visit www.CDC.gov.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at tesshaki@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1095.