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Germs in the School Room

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3. Provide Hand Sanitizer

Hand washing is the best defense against germs, but on field trips or at games or other events, it's not always convenient or possible. Depending on your child's age and school policy, sending her to school with an alcohol-based sanitizing gel or wipe is a good alternative. Some classrooms also provide hand sanitizer. To make it effective, your child should rub the product all over her hands and fingers until they are dry, about 30 seconds. Children under age six should not carry gel or use it without supervision.

"I would also recommend that parents carry hand sanitizer and sanitize children's hands when they pick them up from school or parties, especially during cold and flu season," Kourtis tells WebMD. Tierno warns that many natural brands of sanitizers either don't work or don't kill enough germs. To be effective, a sanitizer should contain at least 60% alcohol, according to the CDC.

4. Teach Your Child Germ Etiquette

Teach your child to stay away from sick children as much as possible. "When children see another child hacking or sneezing, they should move away from the person, not mingle," Tierno says. On the other hand, your child should cover coughs and sneezes to prevent spreading infection if he is sick. When possible, sneeze into a tissue and throw it in the trash right after. Then wash his hands. Otherwise, he should cough or sneeze into crook of his elbow, not his hands.

5. Bring a Pencil Box

Supply your child with his own pencils, crayons, erasers, rulers, and other classroom supplies. He'll have less risk of picking up an illness from sharing these objects. Consider packing mechanical pencils, which don't need to be sharpened. Then your child can avoid the class pencil sharpener, a potential germ hotspot.

6. Don't Share at School

It's simple to remember what is OK to share at school: "Nothing," Tierno says.

Beyond sticking to their own food and drinks, "Children should avoid sharing lipstick or lip balm," Kourtis says. "They should also use their own face make-up, razors, creams, and lotions to avoid skin infections, including MRSA and herpes." Items such as ear buds, locker-room towels, sports jerseys and helmets, and baseball gloves should also be off-limits for sharing.

With younger children, it may be difficult to avoid sharing books and toys in the classroom. Then it's best to remind your child wash her hands afterward and avoid touching her eyes, mouth, or nose until she does.

7. Beware of Top Germ Spots

A 2005 study of germs in schools found that classroom water fountain spigots and plastic cafeteria trays were the germiest spots in school. The spigot had 2,700,000 and the tray 33,800 bacteria per square inch, compared with 3,200 on the restroom toilet seat. This is most likely because toilet seats get cleaned regularly, while trays and water fountains may not be.

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