Whether children play in the bedroom or in a separate playroom, they may not be the only ones playing hide and seek there. These areas may be inundated with uninvited guests. The germs that can cause colds and flus can, and do, take up residence on favorite toys, whether a set of Legos or a Dora the Explorer doll.
Children are two to three times more likely than adults to get sick with the flu. And experts tell WebMD that they often spread the virus to others by sharing toys.
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"Their airways are narrow, so every germ gets stuck and they have not yet developed immunity to many viruses," says Neil Schachter, MD, medical director of respiratory care at Mount Sinai in New York City, and the author of The Good Doctor's Guide to Colds and Flu.
Here are 10 simple strategies to keep playrooms free of those sickening, uninvited guests:
Encourage hand washing. "We can't stress this enough when it comes to keeping colds and flus away," says Paul Horowitz, MD, the medical director of Pediatric Clinics at Legacy Health System in Portland, Ore. "Make sure your child and any of their friends wash their hands before they play in a new area." Here's how: "Use warm water with soap and engage in vigorous rubbing for at least 20 seconds," he says. "That's about as long as saying the alphabet once or singing happy birthday twice." Then, rinse with fresh water and dry with a paper towel -- and let the fun begin.
Wipe down high-touch areas. "Use disinfectant wipes to clean the walls, the handles of drawers, toy chests and cupboards, light switches, nightstands, clock radios, reading glasses, computer keyboards, and desk surfaces," Horowitz says. "This will kill germs on contact."
Use a special air filter to keep air clean. "High-efficiency particulate-arresting (HEPA) filters, available at discount drug stores for about $40 to $100, can remove 99.97% of the pollen, dust, animal dander, and even bacteria from the air," Schachter says. "Proper ventilation is also important, so open windows and doors to let fresh air in and circulate the air whenever possible."
Choose area rugs over wall-to-wall carpeting. "Children's rooms should have small area rugs that that are washed weekly -- especially during cold and flu season," Schachter says. Flu season spans from November through March, while cold season runs from about September until March or April. "Never use wall-to-wall carpet as this is hard to clean and carpets can harbor tremendous amount of germs and allergens."
Limit play dates during cold and flu season. This may seem harsh, but during flu season an infected child can spread a cold or flu 24 hours before symptoms begin, Schachter explains. "During play dates, children have intimate contact with other children because they touch toys, they touch each other's cups, then they put their hands in mouth and touch other things and each other," he says. "There is more contact with bodily fluid between children when compared with adults and that spreads germs," he says. "I certainly would not encourage sleepover dates during flu season."