It’s no surprise that schools are breeding grounds for germs. Close quarters, lots of students, and inadequate germ management are all contributors to the 22 million school days missed each year due to the common cold alone. Children average four colds per year and each cold can last five to 14 days. This disruption to students’ learning also puts a strain on school administrative expenses, public funding and healthcare costs, and parental leave restrictions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that some viruses and bacteria can live up to 2 hours on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs, and desks. Human influenza can survive on surfaces for between 2 and 8 hours. Improper washing allows germs to spread easily, especially since the majority of infectious diseases are spread through hand-based contact.
Although hand washing reduces the spread of unwanted microbes, it is unlikely that kids are properly washing their hands for the recommended 30 seconds, 3 to 4 times a day. Simple logistics, time constraints, and lack of facilities all make hand washing a challenge to perform in some classroom situations.
The hand-washing regimen recommended by the CDC takes about one minute per child, which, done 4 times a day for a class of 25 or 30 kids, adds up to a lot of lost reading, writing and arithmetic. The challenge is finding a way to clean hands throughout the day without dragging an entire class to the restroom for supervised hand washing.
Antibacterial hand sanitizers—or, as a friend’s 5 year old niece unwittingly calls it, “hands in a tiger”—can help. Recent studies have shown that using hand sanitizers can reduce absenteeism by as much as 50%. Look for an instant hand sanitizer that kills at least 99.9% of bacteria, including harmful organisms like MRSA.
Foam In / Foam Out
“Foam In / Foam Out” is a common axiom for health care settings, especially trauma centers. Every time they enter a patient's room they use the sanitizer foam at the entrance. Every time they leave a patient's room they again use the foam. This vigilance need not be so strict in a school setting, but it’s pointing in a good direction.
Have your class use the hand sanitizer at regular times during their day, such as before and after lunch, after recess, after using the restroom (as an addition to hand-washing), and before going home. The installation of wall-mounted sanitizer dispensers in classrooms, gymnasiums, cafeterias, and other common areas is an effective remedy for stopping the spread of harmful germs and bacteria.
The presence of alcohol in many hand sanitizers have caused concern for some—not the least of which is the possibility of it being a flammable liquid. Also, frequent use of alcohol-based sanitizers can cause cracked hands, breaking the skin, which is the first barrier against infection. It also can be harmful for those with skin disorders.
A solution to these concerns may be alcohol-free sanitizers. They’re non-drying to the skin, non-flammable—and are without the allure of ingestion for intoxication, making them ideal for educational environments. (More about alcohol-based verses alcohol-free sanitizers.)
How much goop to goop?
Vigorously rub all sides of your hands with enough gel or foam to get them wet. Now rub them together until they’re dry. If your hands are dry within 10 or 15 seconds—according to the CDC guidelines for health care workers—you haven't used enough.
So the next time you pick up that ubiquitous teacher’s apple, make sure the student who gave it to you is a regular at the hand sanitizing station.