Mind & Body
Back to School Means Back to Germs
8/1/2019 1:00:00 PM
Back to Germs

Germs are a part of life, especially in public places like schools.  In fact, many experts consider schools to be the "ground zero” for infectious disease transmission because of the increased exposure to germ-filled situations:  public restrooms, shared desks, lunchrooms, door handles, sports equipment, band instruments – the list goes on and on.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the common cold alone causes 22 million lost school days annually, as it is easily spread from student to student. 

Darci Portie, APRN-FNPC, family nurse practitioner with Imperial Health’s Iowa Primary Care Clinic, says 80% of infections are spread by hand, not in the air as many people believe, which makes the school environment one with a particularly high risk due to the sheer volume of children sharing the same small, enclosed spaces.  "Whether germs are viral, bacterial, or fungal, many can remain active on most surfaces for several days or longer.  And it doesn’t matter whether the surface is stainless steel, wood, plastic, or even a piece of paper.  When a child touches that contaminated surface, any germs on it are transferred to their hands. Then if they touch their eyes, rub their nose or lips, eat, or in any way get their fingers in contact with a mucous surface, they become infected, and can spread those germs to others." 

Also contributing to the problem is a lack of preventive measures – such as hand washing – that would remove germs before they enter the body.  "Let’s face it,” says Portie, "getting kids to wash their hands repeatedly throughout the day is a challenge.  It’s impossible for teachers to do this for the multitude of students in their classrooms every day.” 

She says it’s also important for parents and students to be aware of the high risk "germ zones,” that might be encountered during the school day.  "Most would probably guess the bathroom, and while that is certainly a high-risk area, there are many others that are often overlooked.”   

She gives an overview of some of these high risk areas: 


Think about all the classroom activities that involve hand-to-hand contact – everything from passing papers, pens and books, to sharing scissors, rulers and other tools.  In some cases, students sit together at tables, in others, they share desks as they move from classroom to classroom. All of this sharing provides ample opportunity for direct and surface spread of germs in the classroom. 


There’s almost no way to avoid germs in a lunchroom.  Students are notorious for not only improper hand washing, but also for sharing food and drinks with one another.  Hundreds of students pass through each lunchroom every day, using the same tables and touching the same shared surfaces, in an area where they will definitely be touching their mouths. 

School Bus

The bus ride to and from school carries many high risk opportunities, and a bus is not cleaned as often as a class room, bathroom or lunch table is.  Sharing drinks, snacks and even cell phones can contribute to the spread of germs, and book bags on the bus floor can carry germs back into the home.  

Band Room 

Instruments stored and shared in many schools' band and music classes may be crawling with potentially harmful germs if not cleaned properly.  Woodwind and brass instruments are at highest risk to become breeding grounds for bacteria because many students share instruments.

Locker Room 

When dressing out for P.E. or sports’ practice, or using sports equipment, hygiene is not usually at the top of a student’s mind.  Benches, lockers, equipment handles, mats, water bottles, face masks and many other potentially contaminated surfaces lurk in the athletic areas of schools.

Portie says parents may feel like there is not much they can do about prevention while their children are at school, but they have more influence than they think. "The more you talk to your kids about preventing the spread of germs, the more they’ll remember.  Practicing good prevention at home also helps your children adopt these behaviors as habits that they’ll take with them to school.” 

She offers the following additional suggestions: 

Children should be taught to wash their hands every time the visit they rest room and before lunch – at a minimum.  Make sure they know to wash for 15 – 20 seconds with soap and water.

When soap and water are not available, alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers may be used. If using gel, rub your hands until the gel is dry. The gel doesn't need water to work; the alcohol in it kills the germs on your hands. 

Teach your children to cough or sneeze into a tissue, throw it away, and then clean their hands if possible. If a tissue is not available, teach them to sneeze or cough into the crook of their elbow, not into their hands.

Ask children to try to hang their book bags or place on a bench or chair whenever possible instead of setting on the floor or ground.  At home, store book bags away from the kitchen table or counter.

Children should be cautioned not to share food, drink or utensils with friends. 

No-sharing should also be the rule for towels and sports gear like helmets, gloves, or shin guards. 

If your child plays a school instrument, be sure they clean it frequently and according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. They should not share their personal mouth pieces. 

In the locker room or gym, athletes should put a towel down on a bench or a piece of exercise equipment before sitting on it. 

Send the supplies your child needs so they won’t have to share with others. Use mechanical pencils if allowed to avoid the need to use the shared pencil sharpener. 

Instruct your child to avoid touching their mouth, nose or eyes during the school day. 

Posted by: Kristy Armand | Submit comment | Tell a friend

Categories: Health

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