New Study Says Kid Stuff Harbors Sickness-Causing Germs Much Longer Than Thought

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Instead of closing kids off from certain experiences or areas, Dr. Dixon says it’s more beneficial to practice immune-boosting measures.

According to a new study, several sickness-causing viruses can survive on kid’s items, like toys, up to 24 hours after contact. The result: Daycares and schools, where many children share the same items, can become a breeding ground for illnesses.

While this new research may come as a surprise to some parents, Rebecca M. Dixon, MD, a pediatrician at Indiana University Health, says she isn’t shocked by the study. “Doctors know that some viruses, like the flu, can survive at room temperature for long periods,” she notes. “That’s why disinfecting is so important.”

One way to ward off sickness: If you’re shopping around for a new daycare or preschool, it pays to ask how often the staff disinfects their toys and playrooms. Dr. Dixon notes that it’s not uncommon for most places to clean with bleach once a week, and usually on Fridays, so the items have the full weekend to dry. Vinegar (diluted with water) is another option. However, this kitchen staple doesn’t compare to bleach when it comes to killing more serious sickness-causing bacteria, like staph, says Dr. Dixon

The key is to realize that there are viruses wherever you go, says Dr. Dixon. “It’s impossible to protect your kids from everything. Viruses are everywhere, on the door handle, light switch and shopping cart,” she says.  And your kids could be exposed to just as many viruses from family members (by kissing, hugging and living in close quarters), she says, than being out in public.

Instead of closing kids off from certain experiences or areas, Dr. Dixon says it’s more beneficial to practice immune-boosting measures. Some of her tips:

  • Good nutrition: Fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy carbs are all essential. “If you think your child isn’t getting what she needs, a multivitamin is a good way to go,”  Dr. Dixon notes. Just make sure to check with your pediatrician first.
  • Good hygiene. Teach kids to sneeze and cough in their elbows. If every child did this it would reduce the risk of colds and the flu making their rounds through the classroom, notes Dr. Dixon.
  • Teach proper hand-washing techniques:  This is one the best ways to avoid sickness. Teach your kids to wash their hands often, but especially before eating. Technique is also important. Have them wash between the fingers, on the back of their hands and even up through their wrist. Make sure they sing the alphabet song so they know how long they should soap up. “Teach kids not to just rinse and run,” says Dr. Dixon.
  • Getting enough sleep: While it’s hard to get kids to go to bed on time, it’s essential for their body to get adequate sleep in order to have a strong immune system. Rewards and sleep charts can help.
  • Hands out of the mouth: “I have four kids, so I know how hard this is, but it’s really important to teach kids to try and keep their hands out of their mouths and away from their noses,” says Dr. Dixon. “This is how germs and bacteria make their way inside.”
  • Exercise and fresh air. While you may think it’s better to keep kids away from other kids (that may be sick) and contaminated playground equipment, fresh air is one of the best things for kids says Dr. Dixon. All that physical activity will keep young bodies in good health, which is optimal to fight off infections.

And remember, if it feels like your kids are always getting sick. It’s actually true. “Kids get 10 to 12 viruses a year. That’s a virus a month,” says Dr. Dixon.  However, while some of it is out of your hands—sick kids at school, germ-laden toys—by implementing the above measures, you’ll increase your chances of having healthy children.  

-- By Judy Koutsky 

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