The top five places diseases linger in schools and what you can do about it
By Peter Sheldon
As children spend more time in the closed environment of the classroom, the risk of contracting an illness increases substantially. Children catch about eight colds a year. Across the nation, they miss as many as 189 school days due to illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Pathogens causing colds, influenza and stomach ailments are spread in a variety of ways, including through the air, coming into contact with a sick person, and touching contaminated surfaces. There are a number of places in schools that harbor germs and represent transmission points, including some not-so-obvious ones.
Most people would consider restrooms to be one of the germiest places on campus, and they would be right. The restroom is the epicenter of cross contamination, because countless germs – E. coli and other fecal toxins — are concentrated there. The good news is that most school restrooms are cleaned nightly, although not always effectively. But, the bad news is that as children go in and out of restrooms, they may not wash their hands, and the germs they carry are spread to nearly every area they touch, including door handles, sink handles, countertops – and their faces. It’s estimated that children bring their hands to their face as many as 80 times an hour, making it easy for harmful germs to infect them and for them to carry hitchhiking pathogens around the school.
Other places that children touch hundreds of times of day, which rank as the top habitats for germs, are:
- Water fountains, which can house as many as 2.7 million bacteria per square inch on the spigot
- Pencil sharpeners, one of the most-used devices in classrooms
- Computer keyboards, mice and touchscreens, which can be the homes for as many as 200 times the number of bacteria found on a toilet seat
- Desktops, which can hold up to 100 times more bacteria than a kitchen table and 400 times more bacteria than the average toilet, according to Dr. Charles Gerba at the University of Arizona.
Unfortunately, despite school custodial staff’s best efforts, critical contact areas where germs reside may not be cleaned effectively. Parents can boost illness prevention efforts by encouraging school administrators to use effective hygienic cleaning practices, including the nightly use of EPA-registered, hospital-grade disinfectants throughout the school. A recent study found that appropriate cleaning and disinfecting of desktops reduced absenteeism by 50 percent. In addition, staff members should periodically use disinfectant disposable wipes to clean high-touch points in classrooms during the day to eliminate new germs.
Parents also can help reduce the transmission of diseases by teaching and reinforcing proper hand-washing and personal hygiene behaviors. To ensure cleanliness, hands should be washed vigorously for 20 seconds using water and soap. Alcohol-based hand sanitizing products can augment hand-washing. Help them break the habit of frequently touching their faces, and if children show symptoms of a cold or other illness, keep them home so they won’t infect other students and staff at school.
PETER J. SHELDON SR., CBSE, an expert in the Building Services Contracting industry brings more than 20 years of experience to his position as Vice President of Operations of Coverall Health-Based Cleaning System®. Sheldon works closely with the Coverall sales and operations teams to spearhead initiatives that further the company’s strategic objectives and help develop the most efficient and innovative cleaning processes available.