A new school year has kicked off across Canada and the millions of students piling into classrooms every day aren’t just bringing in stories about their summer vacations, but germs and viruses, too.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, 80 per cent of common infections can be spread through contaminated hands, and some studies have found a typical human hand can carry 10,000 to 10 million bacteria.
Keeping hands clean to fight infections like the common cold and flu or foodborne illnesses like E. coli and Salmonella is one of the most important steps people can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs. However, researchers have found only one in five people regularly wash their hands, and of those who do, only 30 per cent use soap. In order to truly prevent bacteria from spreading, it’s crucial that students also learn to wash properly.
Learn the Proper Practice
When educating children and young adults about good hand hygiene practices, it’s important to implement the right handwashing practices:
- Pay particular attention to frequently neglected body parts, such as the backs of the hands and fingertips that harbour viruses, and make sure hands are wet and cupped before dispensing a dose of soap;
- Rub palm to palm;
- Rub palm over back of hand, fingers interlaced;
- Palm to palm, fingers interlaced;
- Fingers interlocked into palm;
- Rotational rubbing of thumb clasped into palm;
- Rotational rubbing of clasped fingers into palm.
Rub both hands together for at least 20 seconds. Students can hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice. Skin should always be properly dried to avoid risk of chapping, particularly during the winter months. Clean towels should be available at all times, as dirty towels expose skin to more dirt and the risk of infection. Ideally, single issue disposable towels should be used because using communal towels can lead to contamination.
From an early age, children should be taught to wash their hands before eating or touching any food, and after using the bathroom, touching and feeding animals, blowing their nose, coughing or sneezing, playing outside and after touching garbage or dirt.
Supplement with Sanitizer
Use sanitizers where access to running water is inconvenient; they may kill germs, but won’t physically remove them. Modern sanitizers have been designed to kill 99.999 per cent of common germs and are a very effective way to prevent the spread of bacteria in schools.
With frequent use, sanitizers may even be less harmful to the skin compared to an equivalent number of hand washes; however, it’s recommended that children under the age of two do not use sanitizers due to their immature skin barrier. Children at day-care age can use them as long as it is under careful direction and adult supervision.
Make Handwashing Fun
Highlighting the importance of handwashing through artistic expression promotes cleanliness in a fun way. Students don’t always listen when teachers and parents tell them to wash their hands, so it’s important to find ways to make it more engaging.
Teachers can use colouring books, handwashing puppets and posters to help students learn when, how and why to wash. Use a magnifying glass to take a closer look at hands and nails. Show children places where germs can live and get them to inspect the lines on their hands and fingers. If the budget allows, use colourful child-friendly soap dispensers and a foaming soap, as children of all ages love to play with bubbles, and award them with stickers or other surprises for their efforts.
Preventing Outbreaks in Schools
Repetition and accountability are critical to any successful infection prevention program, and frequent hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of infection throughout the school year. It’s also a crucial step to prevent seasonal and non-seasonal outbreaks, such as norovirus and influenza that can easily and quickly spread from one person to another.
Students and teachers are one part of the solution, but the staff responsible for cleaning must also understand how easily germs can spread from room to room during an outbreak. Ensuring surfaces, light switches, door knobs, keyboards and other frequently touched surfaces are properly cleaned and disinfected can greatly reduce this risk.
Zuzana Bleha is the marketing and communications manager at Deb Canada, the world’s largest occupational skin care company.