An average child in a day care or a nursery school gets at least eight to 12 episodes of common cold each year. In addition, they get tummy complaints, eye infections and in the recent past, Kenya has experienced outbreaks of measles. Although it is not possible to eradicate germs completely from schools, you can ensure that your child does not consistently get sick.
Why do children get sick while in school?
—They have weaker immune systems than adults: The defence system of a child is weaker because it has not fully matured yet. —They have poor hygiene habits: Most children do not wash their hands regularly. —They have a tendency to put things in their mouths. —They consistently touch their faces. —They love to share toys, utensils, pencils, crayons etc —In school, they are in proximity with sick classmates.
Airborne diseases such as tuberculosis, flu and common cold spread faster in poorly-ventiled spaces. Most children are picked by school buses at around 6am (sometimes earlier) and due to the chilly weather, windows are closed 'to prevent the children from getting sick'.
This, however, is a misguided notion. Keeping all windows shut means that if there is a child with a cold sneezes or coughs germs will spread to other children.
Open windows reduces spread of germs.
Children, generally, do not wash their hands regularly. They have to be reminded to keep their hands clean. Proper hand washing reduces infections in school-going children. Ideally, hands should be washed with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (for children, a fun practice would be to ask them to sing the happy birthday song twice).
Children should wash their hands after going to the toilet, after blowing their noses and before/after meals.
It is not practical to get children to wash their hands regularly. This is where hand sanitisers come in handy. If a teacher can keep one or two in the classroom, they can go a long way in preventing the spread of germs. Make sure that the sanitiser has at least 60 per cent alcohol (anything less is not effective in fighting germs).
Sharing pencils, crayons and utensils
Children in preschool put things in their mouths and touch their faces. This means that sharing of stationery is fraught with opportunities for germs to spread to your child. Where possible, get your child their own stationery and discourage them from sharing utensils whilst in school.
Tables and computers
Shockingly, table tops and computers in schools have been found to have up to 200 times more germs than toilets. This is because nobody bothers to properly sanitise these surfaces on a regular basis. Desks and table tops should ideally be wiped down every evening with sanitiser (or diluted bleach solution). Computer key boards and the accessories attached to these devices should also be cleaned daily using sanitised wipes.
Preschoolers are encouraged to learn how to share. This is an integral part of their development. However, shared toys can be a source of disease-causing germs. To reduce this problem, speak to teachers and other care givers at the school to disinfect the toys that the children share. Stuffed toys should be washed regularly. During hot weather, dying them out in the sun is often equally effective.
Teachers can spread germs too
Teachers need to improve on their hand washing skills as well. Most teachers will not remember to wash their hands after helping a child blow their nose. They will also move from a sick child to a well child during teaching activities without sanitising their hands. This means that if the teacher held the crayon of a sick child, he/she will carry those germs to the next child he/she interacts with.
Teach germ etiquette
If your child has a cold or the flu, teach him or her how to prevent the spread of germs to other children. This involves sneezing or coughing into the elbow instead of hands or freely into the classroom. Children should also understand the need to dispose of any tissue which has been used to blow ones' nose.
Keep sick children at home
It is not unusual to have very sick children taken to school. Most parents feel that it is safer than leaving the child under the care of a nanny. Unfortunately, by doing this, the parent of the sick child exposes all the children to the same disease causing germs.
Get your child vaccinated
Most childhood illnesses can be prevented through vaccination. Ideally, all schools should verify the immunisation status of every child. Flu, tummy bugs such as rota virus, measles, pneumonia, meningitis are among highly contagious diseases that have effective vaccinations available in Kenya. Ensure that your child is vaccinated.
Most preschoolers take an afternoon nap in school. The mattresses, bedding and stuffed toys can have bedbugs. These tiny creatures can be a source of misery and can be brought home. All beddings must be cleaned and dried out in the sun regularly.
Most school bags are a haven for germs. Studies done assessing school bags for germs have found that most of them have bugs commonly found in faeces and when food gets in contact with these bugs, it is a recipe for serious tummy problems. Ideally, school bags should be cleaned out daily and washed weekly.