As the winter weather settles in, there’s one phrase that sends chills down the backs of teachers and parents.
“It’s going around.”
Yes, cold and flu season is upon us. Calendars are jam-packed with holidays, family gatherings, recitals, sporting events and so much more. The last thing anyone needs is to catch a virus that slows it all down. While it’s impossible to stop the march of flu season in its tracks, there are numerous ways to improve the odds that the flu bypasses you and your family. It’s a joint effort between those at home and at school, so we asked a family health-care professional and a classroom teacher for their tips on how to keep the germs away.
Dr. Pamela Schoemer, M.D. is a pediatrician with nearly three decades of experience. She is the co-director of quality and safety for Children’s Community Pediatrics (CCP) and also practices at CCP locations in Moon, Wexford and South Fayette Township. If something has gone around in the past 25 years, she has likely seen it. Kate Davidson is a kindergarten teacher at 10th Street Elementary School in the Riverview School District and has three children of her own. She, too, has seen it all. Here are their tips for a healthier winter.
Wash your hands as needed.
It sounds easy, but there are different ways and not all are equal. Schoemer advises patients to wet their hands, apply anti-bacterial soap and then lather for about 30 seconds, or about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday.” Soap kills the viruses and bacteria while the friction of rubbing one’s hands together ensures all that of the skin is covered.
In Davidson’s classroom, which is equipped with a sink, students wash their hands immediately after sneezing, coughing, blowing their nose, or putting their fingers in their mouth. The children also use antibacterial soap prior to eating their afternoon snack.
What about hand sanitizer?
That works, too, but read the label. According to Schoemer, a solution with at least 60 percent alcohol is preferred. While hand sanitizer works in a pinch, don’t rely on it to be as effective as good old soap and water.
“Before you eat, after using the restroom, or other times when your hands are soiled, it’s better to use soap and water,” Schoemer says. “Soap and water is more thorough. You rinse everything off. Hand sanitizer kills germs, but dirt and substances are not washed away.”
Mrs. Davidson’s class washes or wipes their hands whenever possible. If not, hand sanitizer is the backup plan.
Think before touching your face.
Our hands, especially those of small children, are the ground zero of contact. If there are any germs lingering on our bodies, chances are they are on our hands. Both Davidson and Schoemer advise catching sneezes or coughs by making a “chicken wing” with one arm and cupping your mouth in the elbow. If using a Kleenex, remember those are for one-time use only. Those wadded-up tissues lining purses and pockets aren’t helping anyone.
Avoid crowds whenever possible.
This is a tough one. For students, life is a crowd. Whether it is table-top activities in the classroom, gym class or family time at home, childhood is not a time of isolation. Schoemer advises parents to use common sense. If you or your children are sick, stay away from public places like playgrounds and grocery stores.
Get a flu shot.
The daughter of an internist, Davidson learned about healthy habits at an early age. She constantly stresses the importance of health to her students.
“Kindergarten children often talk of getting their flu shot and I use it as a teachable moment to share that I received my flu shot to stay healthy too,” Davidson explains. “I express the importance of visiting the doctor for a flu shot, and also visiting the doctor when students are not feeling well.”
It’s not easy staying healthy during the winter. But if we all do our part, we can hopefully leave viruses out in the cold this winter.
This article was originally published in Community Health for Allegheny County Schools Health Insurance Consortium.