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.
"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."
Make sure toys are clean.
"You can wash stuffed animals in the washing machine weekly during cold and flu season," Schachter says. "Plastic toys such as Legos can be washed with soap and water and board game surfaces can be wiped down with disinfecting wipes." Horowitz adds that "kids are touching everything including parts of their own body that may be contaminated and then touching toys or mouthing them and then sharing them with playmates."
Change bed sheets weekly.
"Sheets can be repositories for germs that cause colds and flus and need to be changed weekly. If your child is sick, this should be done more often as they get even more soiled," Schachter says. "If you have allergies, use dust mite covers on the bed to reduce exposure," he says. "If your children share a bedroom and one of your kids is sick, take the healthy one into your room at night on a cot to reduce the amount of germs that he or she is exposed to."
Keep Fido off the bed.
"No matter how much your children beg, don't let pets sleep in their bedroom or bed as their furry coats may be great hiding places for both germs and allergens," Schachter says.
Mop the floor.
Cleaning hard surface floors with an appropriate detergent and water will remove dust, dirt, germs and visible mold growth and should be done weekly - especially during cold and flu season.
Choose functional tissues.
"The latest trend in tissues are virucidal tissues," says Schachter. "These tissues prevent the spread of viruses around the house because it kills them when you blow your nose." Encourage your child to cover his nose or mouth when sneezing or coughing, and after using tissues, throw them away!