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My kids go back to school in a couple of weeks. They’re going back to middle and high school, so we’re past the really sick years, but I can remember when our son first started preschool. We were all sick all the time, it seemed, for a few years. Colds, stomach viruses, flu, more colds. It was always something. If I’d known then what I learned recently in Lysol Germ School, I could have prevented a lot of the sickness that he brought home to us.
Joe Rubino, a microbiologist who works as a germ expert for Lysol, gave a group of bloggers—myself included—a really informative presentation about germs. Then we had a conversation with Dr. Jennifer Zubler, a pediatrician. Between the two of them I learned a ton. I hope what I learned helps you prepare you for cold and flu season!
What Are Germs?
There are four main kinds of germs, some of which can make us sick:
Bacteria can live inside or outside of our bodies. E. coli is a pretty common bacteria that lives in our intestines and doesn’t do us any harm most of the time, but certain strains of E. coli can make us sick. Strep throat is also caused by bacteria. Bacterial infections can usually be treated with antibiotics.
Viruses can’t live for extended periods outside of a living thing, but they can hang around long enough on doorknobs and other surfaces to spread themselves around and make people sick. Viruses can live on surfaces for up to 48 hours. Colds and flu are both caused by viruses. Norovirus is one that you hear about a lot on the news because it tends to spread well on cruise ships. Antibiotics cannot fight viral infections.
Fungi are kind of like plants, except they can’t make their own food from light – they feed off of other living things. They like to live in dark damp places. Athletes foot is a common fungus. Fungi can be treated with antifungal medicines.
Protozoa are tiny parasites that like moist environments and are often transmitted through water. They cause diseases like amoebic dysentery. (I’ve had it. It’s not pleasant.)Did you know that the flu virus can live on surfaces for up to 48 hours? #LysolGermSchool Click To Tweet
How Are Germs Spread?
Germs can be spread in five main ways:
Airborne: germs are spread by sneezing, coughing, and talking. A good sneeze can travel more than twelve feet!!!
Vector-borne: germs are transmitted by animals and bugs, like bubonic plague bacteria traveling on fleas (which were themselves traveling on rats), or the Zika virus being transmitted from person to person via mosquitoes.
Direct contact: germs are transmitted directly from one person to another, for example by shaking hands or kissing (raise your lucky hand if you didn’t get the mono virus in high school!).
Indirect contact: germs are transmitted from person to person through another object, like a doorknob or a remote control.
Contaminated food and water: germs are transmitted when you eat or drink something that’s infected.Did you know that a sneeze can travel 12 feet? #LysolGermSchool Click To Tweet
Why Do Kids Get Sick More Often?
Sometimes it seems like kids are just little germ magnets. Some of it is due to their behavior, some is due to the germs themselves.
Kids touch things all the time. Kids can touch and retouch 300 surfaces in just half an hour. That’s a lot of potential for germs to get on their hands. And then what do they do with their hands? They touch their eyes, they shove their fingers up their noses, they put their hands into their mouths. These are all excellent ways for germs to get into the body.
Plus, most kids don’t really care about washing their hands. They’ll do it if we make them, but even then they’re probably not putting their all into it. Ever watch a kid lackadaisically rinse his hands with practically no rubbing, and then wipe them dry on the towel that the rest of the family uses? Yeah. Kids are kinda gross.
Getting older helps, and not just because we become more aware of how hygiene can prevent sickness. Over time, people get immune to some diseases. You might think you’re getting the same cold every winter, but you’re not. You’re getting a different strain of rhinovirus each time. And once you’ve had a strain, you’re pretty much immune to it. The more colds you get over time, the more strains you’re immune to, and the less likely you are to get sick.
Still, every year almost 70% of Americans suffer from a cold or flu. This is a big problem. And you can infect someone else before you’re even feeling any symptoms, which makes these illnesses harder to contain.Did you know that kids can touch and retouch up to 300 surfaces in half an hour? #LysolGermSchool Click To Tweet
What Can You Do?
Prevention is always better than treatment, and there’s actually a lot that we can do to help prevent the spread of germs.
Sneeze into your elbow
This will do two things: contain a lot of the tiny droplets that carry germs, and keep those germs off of your hands, so that you’re not touching other people and surfaces and leaving germs behind. I mean, how often do you touch something with the inside of your elbow?
Seriously. According to Dr. Lubler, playing outside and having a pet can help raise your antibodies. Being in too clean of an environment doesn’t give your body a chance to become immune to anything over time. (No problem with that in my house!!)
Wash your hands
Washing your hands well doesn’t actually kill germs, it physically removes them from your hands. Dr. Lubler says you don’t need to use an antibacterial soap, because the rubbing and water should be doing the work. You should be rubbing vigorously, on all parts of your hands, for at least twenty seconds. (A good rule for kids is to sing the ABC song while washing their hands.) That might seem like a long time if you actually time it, but it’s so worth it.
If you can’t wash your hands, use some hand sanitizer. It’s not as good as actually washing the germs off of your hands, but it’s better than nothing in a pinch.
Mr. Rubino had me put some lotion on my hands that contained a fluorescent powder. He asked me to go wash my hands. I knew this was some sort of test, so I did a really good job, but I didn’t pretend that I was scrubbing up for surgery or anything. I washed them like I would if I were in a public bathroom.
He shined a blacklight on my hands to see if there was any of the fluorescent powder left (representing germs left behind after hand washing). I did a pretty good job, but you can see that there was still some powder in my nail beds.
There was also some powder up near my watch, which makes sense because I didn’t want to soak my watch. I guess if I really want to wash my hands well, I should throw my jewelry and watch into my purse before I even enter a bathroom, and then put it back on when I’m totally done washing and drying my hands.
Mr. Rubino said that you can always tell which hotel room is his by the smell of Lysol wafting out into the hallway. Lysol kills up to 99.9% of bacteria and viruses, including the flu, MRSA, Salmonells, and E. coli.
Lysol Disinfectant Wipes can be used on hard surfaces like doorknobs, counters, faucet knobs, and telephones. As a paranoid vegetarian who cooks meat for her family, I use these wipes on the counter and in the sink after working with chicken. I also wipe down all doorknobs and light switches daily during cold and flu season, which goes from October to May.
I can’t swear that this has helped us to not get sick—I’m sure that my kids getting older has helped also—but in the four or five years that I’ve been doing this, none of us has gotten that horrible stomach virus that goes through schools every winter (you know the one, where it comes out of both ends for 24 hours), and I’ve definitely seen a reduction in colds in our house.
Lysol Disinfectant Spray can kill all of the things I mentioned above, plus it can kill mold and mildew. The spray can be used on hard surfaces, and also on couches and chairs, mattresses, and pet beds.
According to Mr. Rubino, the germiest items in your home are probably your remote controls, microwave and refrigerator door handles, phones, and the areas around the toilet. Interestingly, he said that cell phones are not as much of a concern, because you’re the only one touching your cell phone most of the time.
Isolate Sick Kids
According to Dr. Lubler when someone in your house is sick, especially if it’s a child who is likely to touch a lot of things, the best way to keep the rest of the family healthy is to physically isolate the sick person. And wash your hands before and after taking care of them.
For even more info on helping to keep classrooms healthy, check out Lysol’s Healthy Habits.
Box tops for Education
Lysol is part of the Box Tops for Education program, which helps schools raise much-needed funds. Look for Box Tops on Lysol sprays, wipes, and bathroom cleaning products. You can even get bonus boxtops.
If your school doesn’t participate in the Box Tops program yet, you can get more information here.
Many thanks to Lysol Germ School’s awesome hosts, Vera Sweeney and Audrey McClelland!