Colds? Flu? Conjunctivitis? They're here, there and everywhere, and most prevalent in schools. Students often touch the same keyboards, share toys, rub eyes, and sniffle and sneeze at desks just inches apart. No wonder students, teachers and school-related professionals are exposed to so many germs.
"Viruses are among us. You can keep them at bay with good hygiene, oral care and hand washing," said Suzanne Smith, school nurse, RN, and member of the Sacketts Harbor Teachers Association. According to the National Institute of Health, rhinoviruses, associated with the common cold, can live up to three hours on your skin, on telephones and stair railings. We can prevent illnesses from spreading in many ways:
1. Wash your hands a lot
"All people should wash their hands before meals, after blowing their nose, coughing, touching their face or nose, after first-aid care, and after using the toilet," Smith said.
2. Brush, floss, rinse
"Good oral care clears the mouth of germs," said Smith, who hands out toothbrushes to students in February during National Children's Dental Health Month.
3. Clean classrooms, cafeterias
"Our custodial staff is great. They're very diligent. They wash every desk every day and the tables at lunch in between each class," said school nurse Joan Noonan, a member of the Rocky Point School-Related Professionals Association. She and health aide Debra Cacciatore serve 739 students.
In accordance with state law, Rocky Point evaluated various products before choosing green cleaners, said head custodian Michael LaRosa, also a member of the Rocky Point SRP Association. "Every class is fully mopped every day. Soap dispensers, sinks, countertops, paper towel dispensers — everything gets fully cleaned every day. We use different products for different areas," he said. If a virus is spreading through school, staff does additional cleaning with a green virus-cleaning product, he said.
4. Get plenty of rest
Lack of sleep, Smith said, "is a huge issue with our children today." She recommends a minimum of 10 hours a night for children in grades K-5. "Many of our children are staying up too late," said Smith, a nationally certified nurse. The same goes for adults.
5. Eat right and exercise
Smith recommends school nurses join the school's health and wellness team to work with cafeteria staff, teachers and administrators in promoting healthy foods and snacks. Her school's committee used a U.S. Deparment of Agriculture grant to provide fresh fruit to students every day for a half a year. The school is also using more local produce, she said.
Noonan said her school pushes "Eat, sleep and exercise." Students perform five minutes of calisthenics after the morning recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, and again in the afternoon.
"NYSUT also has available for elementary school nurses or teachers a free, simple sticker program called 24/7 Let's Go! where each student marks healthy choices in exercise and eating," said NYSUT vice president Kathleen Donahue. "It's a great motivator."
6. Go outside
"It is always good to get fresh air," said Julie Neuman, school nurse and member of Cortland United Teachers. "Walk around, open the lungs. Just be sure to wear hats and mittens." She also advocates drinking a lot of fluids, and said, "Vitamin C is our friend in the wintertime."
7. Stay home if contagious
Most schools send students home if their temperatures hit 100 degrees. Adults need to be careful of going to school when sick, because they spread germs, too.
"Rest and fluids go a long way toward recovery," said Smith. "The first couple of days are the most contagious."
Neuman uses her column in the school newsletter to remind parents of upcoming physicals, changes in state mandates and immunizations. She recently addressed school rules that require children be fever-free for 24 hours without medicine.