School’s in, summer’s out

Summer is winding down and we look forward to the coming school year.  Not only must we prepare with books and other tangible school supplies, but it is important to keep in mind health promotion and prevention in our school-aged children as well.  

Unfortunately, the close proximity of individuals in the school setting, as well as the sharing of desks, chairs, and other supplies, presents an environment for the easy passage of illness.  For these reasons, parents and teachers should be mindful of preventive measures to cut down on the spread of communicable illness.

The simplest and most important technique is handwashing.  Most of the widespread and ordinary illnesses that plague our communities, such as common colds and respiratory infections, stomach bugs, and skin infections, are passed from person to person via direct and indirect contact.  Sick individuals cough or sneeze into their hand and then touch inanimate surfaces or other individuals and pass the germs along.

Washing the hands with soap and clean water is the most effective method of hand hygiene.  Handwashing with water and soap should be done in the following manner: wet your hands with water; apply the soap and lather and scrub them for at least 20 seconds; rinse the hands well under running water; dry using a towel or air dryer.  

Now, at the risk of sounding like Detective Adrian Monk and creating a bunch of paranoid germaphobes in the community, I think there are additional key points to keep in mind about this whole handwashing process, especially when done in a public facility.  First of all, not everyone who touches a door handle, public sink, paper towel dispenser, or restroom door has washed their hands thoroughly or at all.  So if, after you have just done a great job washing your hands, you then touch the unclean faucet to turn it off, the paper towel dispenser, or the door handle to leave the room, you now run the risk of picking up germs from any of these unclean surfaces.  

To avoid “re-infecting” yourself by touching unclean surfaces, try this: if a motion-activated paper towel dispenser or air dryer is not available, dispense the paper towel first.  Turn on the faucet and wash your hands as described above; then use the paper towel to dry your hands and then turn off the faucet using the paper towel.  Finally, use the same paper towel to open the door as you leave and then discard it.  The most sanitary public facilities will have “no touch” flushing, faucets, and paper towel dispensers and the door pushes out so you don’t have to grab a handle to exit.  

If water and soap are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.  Effective hand sanitizers should contain at least 60 percent alcohol.  Since children in school classrooms share desks and other supplies, classrooms should have sanitizer readily available for use by the students.  

Another important part of staying healthy during the school year is vaccinations.  Children should stay up to date on all recommend immunizations, including the yearly flu shot.  Finally, proper sleep, diet, and physical activity will help to maintain a strong immune system.  

The content in this column is for informational purposes only.  Consult your physician for appropriate individual treatment.  Dr. Reynolds practices Family Medicine in Chesterfield.

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