Here Come the Germs!

24 09 2013

I love my kids. I do. But, may I just say, entre nous, that my heartbeat slows and I’m immersed in a narcotic sense of freedom when they toddle off to school each September.

That euphoric bliss lasts about two weeks. Maybe. Then come the colds, the aches, the lethargy, the sniffles, the who-knows-what.

Does your family experience the same thing? Here’s what’s going on:

  • In the US, kids under 17 years of age experience over 50 million colds each year. M-m-million!
  • Kids miss almost 22 million (there’s that “m” word again) days of school due to colds.
  • Diarrhea is no slouch when it comes to affecting the health of our kids—it’s a big contributor to missed school days.
  • Bacteria and viruses can survive on desktops, doorknobs, walls, water spigots, cafeteria trays, shoes, backpacks, purses, and other surfaces for minutes or even hours. A few even longer, depending on the environment. The germs lurk on surfaces, waiting for unsuspecting hands to slide by and pick them up.
  • Some kids and teachers don’t cover their coughs and sneezes, and they don’t clean their hands when it’s important to do so. Depending on the germ, it may float in the air and wait to be inhaled, or drop on a surface and wait to be picked up, or transfer from germy hands to surfaces or the waiting hands of others.

What can we do? We can’t completely protect our kids from the germs in the world (and there’s no way I’m homeschooling), so we teach them how to protect themselves and live with the fact that they’re occasionally going to pick up germs. Picking up germs is not a bad thing. That exposure helps strengthen the immune system and does other good things for the body that are best left to another blog post.

To keep illness down to a manageable level, share these tips with your family:

  • Wash hands with soap and water after coughing, sneezing, playing inside or outside, going to the bathroom, or touching animals, and before preparing or eating food and at any time that the hands look dirty. And, wash those hands as soon as you come home from school or, well, anywhere.
  • Use hand sanitizer in place of soap and water if no soap/water is available, but soap and water are preferred. Remember that hand sanitizer kills many germs, but only while it’s being rubbed onto the hands. Once it’s dry and the hand touches something germy even two seconds later, germs will live on the hands again.
  • Cough and sneeze into the crook of the elbow. Coughing and sneezing into tissues is OK, but not ideal. The tissues are thin and the germs blast right through onto the hands, requiring an immediate hand cleaning. Plus, the germs are more likely to escape the tissue and float around waiting to be inhaled, or drop onto surfaces, waiting to be touched.
  • Don’t share with others anything your mouth touches. This means don’t share forks, spoons, water bottles, food, drinking glasses, straws, lipstick or any other makeup, come to think of it, and don’t use anything that’s touched another person’s mouth, such as their pen or pencil or any item already listed. This is not a complete list, just one to get you thinking about how germs can be passed from one person to another.
  • Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth, as these are entryways for germs.
  • Walk around your home with a disinfecting wipe and clean doorknobs (interior and exterior), light switches and the wall area around them if the wall surface will hold up to the moisture, keyboards, remote controls—anything around the house that gets touched a lot.
  • Call your provider and your child’s provider and make sure the entire family is up-to-date on immunizations.

Share your tips in the comment section. Let’s try to have a healthy school year!

 

By Trish Parnell

 

 





The Trouble With Some Microbes . . .

7 02 2013

Our battle against bacteria is tilting in our favor. After all, we have vaccines and antibiotics on our side. That doesn’t mean we can get cocky. It’s tilting, not surrendering at our feet.

But we’re still struggling to find ways to kill viruses once they’ve infected us.  At best, we can sometimes control them.

Although we can kill viruses on our bodies and other surfaces with disinfectants, it’s difficult to kill them when they’re living inside our cells.  When we’re infected with a virus, it takes up residence in one of our cells and uses the cell’s machinery to reproduce itself.

Developing a drug that will kill the virus without disrupting the intracellular machinery of uninfected cells is no easy task. It’s like playing Jenga—eventually the whole structure will collapse.

Bacteria, on the other hand, generally live outside of our cells and are easier targets.

There are some bacteria that have developed a resistance to not just one drug, say for instance penicillin, but to many such drugs.  They’re known as multi-drug resistant microorganisms such as streptococcus pneumoniae and mycobacterium tuberculosis, germs that we thought were very much under control and are now surging back into the population.

One major factor in preventing us from understanding the world of microbes is the size of that world.

The folks at the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences put bacteria into perspective this way, “Bacteria vary somewhat in size, but average about 1/25,000 inch.  In other words, 25,000 bacteria laid side by side would occupy only one inch of space.  One cubic inch is big enough to hold nine trillion average size bacteria—about 3,000 bacteria for every person on earth.

“Bacteria make up the largest group of micro-organisms.  People often think of them only as germs and the harm they do.  Actually, only a small number of [the thousands of different] bacteria types are pathogenic (disease-causing).  Most are harmless and many are helpful.”

Neal Rolfe Chamberlain, professor at the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine, explains viruses in this manner, “Viruses are very small forms of life.  In fact, people still argue over whether viruses are really alive.  Viruses range in size from about 20 to 300 nanometers (nm).  A nanometer is 0.000001 of a millimeter.  A millimeter is 1/25 of an inch.  So in other words, you can place 25,000,000 nanometers in an inch.  If the biggest virus is 300 nm then you could fit 83,333 of that virus in an inch.

“Viruses are major freeloaders.  They cannot make anything on their own.  To reproduce they must infect other living cells.  Viruses infect bacteria, parasites, fungi, plants, animals, and humans.  No one escapes them.  If you have had the flu, chickenpox, measles, a common cold, mono, a cold sore, or a sore throat you have been infected by a virus!”

Some viruses, like HIV and hepatitis C, tend to develop strains that can resist mono drug therapy (treating the patient with one drug at a time).  We have to try and control the viruses with combination, or “cocktail” drugs (treating the patient with several drugs at once), although even that approach does not always work.  Some viruses can keep mutating until we’ve run out of drugs to try.

All this is to say that fighting microbes is seldom a simple task, and seemingly one that is neverending. For example, we have a whooping cough vaccine, but new strains are popping up and new vaccines are needed for this astoundingly infectious microbe.

We will never be rid of our tiny co-inhabitants on this world, and anyway, most of them we want to keep around. It’s those others . . . wouldn’t it be nice to have a jail for nasty microbes?

By PKIDs’ Staff





Germs – They’re a Pain!

27 12 2012

Do you disinfect your countertops and sinks just before you start baking or cooking?

It sounds logical, but I don’t do it. I clear the debris and swipe at the crumbs before hauling out the pans, flour, sugar, and other yummo ingredients.

I know that at any given moment, my kitchen countertops are not free of germs. (Well, I do use something to kill the little microbes, but only once a day—usually just before bed.)

So, here’s where I’m going with this—my oldest daughter and I were in the germy kitchen last weekend, preparing dinner. She washed the veggies, and then set them on the counter. The germy counter.

I told her to put the clean stuff on a plate, not directly on the counter, because it hadn’t been disinfected. She rolled her eyes (did I mention she knows everything because she’s 17?) and told me I think way too much about germs.

She’s probably right, although I didn’t tell her that.

But, to play devil’s advocate, let’s take a moment and review a typical Saturday.

We go to the grocery store and Costco, touching cart handles and checkout stations and bins, just like the thousands of shoppers before us.

We return to the car, unload boxes and bags into the back end, and get into the front seat.

After I’ve opened the driver’s side door and touched the steering wheel and the gearshift, I put my hands all over the outside and inside of my purse, trying to unearth the hand sanitizer. I squirt on more than I need and rub briskly until dry, after which I promptly put my clean hands onto the germy steering wheel and gearshift.

Did you know that once the sanitizer is dry, it won’t kill any new germs that make it to your hands?

We drive home, grab the boxes and bags, carry them into the house and put them on the floor, chairs, and countertops in the kitchen. If we only have a few boxes or bags, we just use the countertops.

Hey, it’s easier!

The girls put away the groceries while I do the debris-clearing and crumb-swiping. Then, out come the pans and flour and what-have-you that we’ll be using for that day’s baking or cooking.

You see my problem. In fact, after explaining our routine, I’m just now seeing how lazy I’ve been about a clean cooking environment. My excuse is, I know how germy the countertops are and I never put any food on them.

My daughter is right in that I do think too much about germs, but I’m right in that there are some basics we should observe to reduce the risk of infections, which I swear I’ll start observing as of this minute.

Never put purses, briefcases, grocery bags or boxes, or anything that’s been sitting around a germy environment, on the kitchen countertops. Whatever germs the boxes etc. have on their bottoms will transfer to the counter.

Take two minutes to disinfect the cooking and prep areas.

Wash hands with soap and water, and realize that the germs you have on your hands when you turn on the water will stay on the faucet for a certain amount of time, unless you then disinfect the faucet. (It’s never-ending, really, isn’t it?!)

Well, I’m sure you know there are heaps of rules for safe handling of food. But that’s about all my stomach can take. Please share your keep-it-clean cooking ideas in the comments!

By Trish Parnell





Be Ready to Fight Those Germs!

2 05 2011

(Thanks to our 11-year-old guest blogger, Paloma, for this timely reminder and her exciting design choices!)

When you sneeze or cough and then you touch something, you’re spreading germs all around.

For example, sneezing then climbing into the school bus, touching the hand rail and the backs and bottoms of the seats.  Everywhere your hand touches, it leaves germs behind.

  

When a kid sneezes or coughs and doesn’t use a tissue or wash their hands after, they spread a lot of germs around.  That’s how a lot of colds and flu and other diseases jump from kid to kid.

To prevent from getting sick or spreading your sickness around, you can wash your hands, and if you don’t have soap around, you can always carry hand sanitizer in whatever you have, like a satchel or a purse.

Kids should bring hand sanitizer to school because school is probably one of the most likely places where you can get sick because little kids are sneezing and touching things after and probably not using a tissue, but I’m sure they do sometimes.

You don’t always know where the germs are because they are little tiny germs and you can get them by just touching one thing that has someone’s germs on it.

Make sure to always wash your hands when you cough or sneeze, and if you don’t have any soap then sanitize. If you don’t have sanitizer make sure you go pick some up.

Germs hate soap and sanitizer.

NO MORE GERMS NO MORE GERMS NO MORE GERMS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Always remember to cover your cough with a tissue and when you sneeze cover it up with a tissue. And when you sneeze into a tissue or cough into one you still have to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer. Soap would be better to use if you had some around.  Always wash your hands before dinner or before you empty the dishwasher etc.

BE READY TO FIGHT THOSE GERMS!!!

Photo credits: Creative Commons, Mountainside Medical, Discovery School





iPad shmiPad, It’s Germy!

7 04 2011

Don’t you love your iPad? Your Droid? Your iPhone? Whatever touch-screen device you use, isn’t it (sigh) maaaarvelous?

It’s also germier than a subway toilet, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology. Viruses can stay viable on the surface of these devices for awhile. If we share our touch-screen device with others, the germs they leave behind can transfer to our fingertips. Once that happens, it’s easy to become infected.

So, how can we disinfect the device without getting moisture into the inner workings or damaging the surface?

According to Apple’s public relations team, the only way to clean an iPad is to:

…unplug all cables and turn off iPad (press and hold the Sleep/ Wake button, then slide the onscreen slider). Use a soft, slightly damp, lint-free cloth. Avoid getting moisture in openings. Don’t use window cleaners, household cleaners, aerosol sprays, solvents, alcohol, ammonia, or abrasives to clean iPad. The iPad screen has an oleophobic coating; simply wipe the screen with a soft, lint-free cloth to remove oil left by your hands. The ability of this coating to repel oil will diminish over time with normal usage, and rubbing the screen with an abrasive material will further diminish its effect and may scratch your screen.

Not the greatest advice for disinfecting, since water and wiping do little to kill germs.

One way to keep germs off of our device is to use a case and a screen protector, then clean/disinfect those pieces rather than the actual device.

Another way to curb the transmission of germs from a touch-screen device is good old hand hygiene. Washing our hands or using a hand sanitizer before and after we use a touch-screen device will limit the spread of germs.

Now, we got some Splodin’ to do!

(photo courtesy henke on Flickr)