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Tips to Keep Germs Away this Summer

By: Dr. Charles Gerba

Spring is in the air, and we’re about to move head first into long summer days and outdoor family fun. While summer is the time to really enjoy the outdoors, it’s important for parents to note proactive strategies for maintaining a healthy lifestyle for themselves and their children alike. Unlike our children, we don’t get a summer break.

So what are some of the common pitfalls leading to summer illness? First and foremost, foodborne viruses (more commonly referred to as “food poisoning”) reach peak levels due to moisture and warmer temperatures. But hand contact plays just as big of a role during the summer, leading to the spread of enteroviruses that can cause summer colds and aseptic meningitis.

This summer, stay proactive and encourage children to wash their hands often. Here are a few other useful tips for keeping germs away from your family during the warmer months.

· Playtime Faux Pas – Soccer balls, footballs, bikes, slides and handheld game devices are among the most notable playtime items for spreading E. coli and other fecal bacteria. Likewise, sandboxes can become contaminated with fecal bacteria, usually from passing animals that use them as litter boxes. Especially following outdoor play, make sure children wash their hands for as long as it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice, and cover sandboxes when they’re not in use.

· Daycare Cleaning Services – What kind of after hours cleaning service does your child’s daycare employ? Traditional cleaning services don’t always use the most up-to-date tools and strategies to get the job done and tend to pay less attention to “high-touch” points inside facilities. Health-based cleaning services, on the other hand, use hospital-grade disinfectants, cutting-edge cleaning technology and up-to-date strategies that reduce cross-contamination and focus on some of the more sensitive areas in the facility, like water fountain toggles (used more often by children with colds and diarrhea to stay hydrated).

· Surface Cleaning – The home environment is the easiest for a parent to control. Pay special attention to surfaces within the home—especially high-touch points like counters, doorknobs, keyboards, light switches and the like—as enteroviruses and some bacteria are known to survive on surfaces for as much as weeks.

· Pool Etiquette – Chlorine-resistant bacteria like Cryptosporidium (diarrhea-causing) should invoke a little more caution in your typical trip to the public pool. If you plan on attending a public pool, it’s a good idea to go in the morning. Or, set up a small wading pool in the backyard if your child is young enough.

· Picnic Problems – Between the temperature and nature, picnics can be bacterial hotspots—unless you take the proper precautions. Try to bring a table cloth or avoid picnic tables, popular hangouts for birds that in turn leave fecal matter behind. Foods, the most vulnerable of which is salad dressing, rapidly spoil in warmer temperatures, so always bring an ice-filled cooler along to keep food fresh.

 

Dr. Charles Gerba is a microbiologist at the University of Arizona  and consultant to Coverall Health-Based Cleaning SystemSMas well as the co-author of the The Germ Freak’s Guide to Outwitting Colds and Flu: Guerilla Tactics to Keep Yourself Healthy at Home, at Work and in the World. Learn more about flu prevention at http://www.flupreparedness.org/.

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