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Experts Corner

Children's Health

Battle of the Bugs: How to Keep Your Kids Germ-Free
By Tara Kompare, Pharm.D.

My oldest daughter is starting kindergarten this year. With a smile on my face I will help her onto the bus and, the moment she turns her back to me, I will cry like a baby.

Now this crying will not be without warrant. Besides worrying about the big kids bossing her around, I am also quite paranoid of microscopic troublemakers that may be hiding out.

Bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa constitute the world of germs and they love to take residence in schools. They can be found on food, tables, doorknobs, and on lots of little hands. In order to help minimize the sick days our children have to take this year, have them follow these simple rules:

Rule #1: Wash those hands!: One of the most important pieces of advice you can send your child away with this year is: "Remember to wash your hands!" It is best to use warm soap and water and scrub hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds (or the time it takes to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice).

Rule #2: No Sharing: When it comes to personal items such as hairbrushes, combs, and drinks, this is one time when sharing is not caring.

Rule #3: Cover Up: I learned some wise advice from my girls' pre-school teacher, Miss Sally: “Never cough or sneeze into your hands since you touch everything with them afterwards. Instead, cover your mouth with the crook of your arm.” Of course, the best option would be covering up your mouth with a tissue or hankie but what are the odds of that happening in school every time a kid coughs or sneezes?

Rule #4: Get immunized: It is important to keep your children up-to-date on their immunizations. And, don’t forget to ask about the flu vaccine, which is now available as a child-friendly nasal spray.

Rule #5: Stay Home: If your child appears sick, try to keep them home. This is a lot easier said than done sometimes especially if you are the head honcho at work. You would think more companies would offer a "sick" day care center. Maybe one day . . .

Rule #6: Help Prevent Resistance: Believe it or not, antibiotics do not cure the most popular bugs that cause our children to miss school. The common cold and the flu are both caused by viruses and are not treatable with prescription antibiotics. Over-prescribing of antibiotics can lead to drug resistance and the emergence of hard to treat "superbugs." Some ways to help combat multiple drug resistant bacteria include:

  1. Understand that a lot of times an antibiotic is not the best choice for your child’s illness.
  2. Wash your hands and fresh produce thoroughly. Only use antibacterial hand gels and soaps when warm water and soap are not available.
  3. Ensure your child completes their full course of antibiotic therapy when prescribed.

I often wonder how it is that anyone ever reaches the age of adulthood. Just surviving one full day of school is a feat in and of itself. So how do our children do it? As far as the school bullies go, if your kids are anything like my daughter, they will immediately run and tell on the perpetrator at large. As for the bugs, with the right amount of guidance and hand washing, I think our kids will make it through the school year just fine.

P.S.S. (Parent Sanity Saver): If your kids seem to ignore the advice you deliver concerning the importance of proper hand hygiene, have them go online to the Scrub ClubTM at www.scrubclub.org. The Scrub ClubTM is a fun, interactive website dedicated to teaching children the benefits of hand washing.

About the Author:
Tara Kompare, Pharm.D. is a doctor of pharmacy and mother of two amazing little girls. You can contact her directly at drk @ themedicinemom.com or visit her website at www.themedicinemom.com. She encourages reader feedback and questions.

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