All washed up

What it takes to keep the germs away

As a registered nurse, Alison Warren knows how important it is for her 3-year-old son, Hector, to wash his hands properly.

"The way to get rid of germs on your hands is to use soap and to apply friction," says the Madison mom, who recognizes that it can be tough to get kids to wash well. "This last week [Hector] has been a little more cooperative putting soap on his hands and rubbing, and doesn't just want to run his hands under the water."

Hands and home. These are the two fronts infection-control experts have this flu season to prevent spreading regular seasonal viruses and the added H1N1 flu. First off, if you're sick, you should stay at home. But schools, day-care centers and public-health officials have all stepped up efforts this fall to educate people on how exactly to get your hands clean and keep the germs at bay so kids - and parents - don't have to stay home sick.

With these campaigns and a new form of flu etiquette, health officials hope to keep the 30% of us expected get sick from the H1N1 virus to a minimum.

Part of the responsibility in educating the public, according to Meriter Hospital infection-control professional DeAnn Richards, is to learn the new norm for germ protocol and hold each other accountable for proper hygiene.

"There's an opportunity to have more one-on-one conversations. If you see someone cough or sneeze into their hands, you can advocate for kids to say let's go back and correct it," says Richards.

Hands are the number one way germs spread from person to person. You can blame old-school rules for creating the hard-to-break habit that many adults have. Back in the day, mom preached covering coughs and sneezes with hands. But that's exactly the wrong thing to do, according to new knowledge.

"What happens when someone sneezes or coughs and they take hand to mouth, which is what we have been accustomed to doing for many decades, the next thing we touch, whether it be desk, handrail, telephone or doorknob, becomes covered with virus," explains Dr. Ellen Wald, chair of Department of Pediatrics at UW Hospital & Clinics.

The virus can live on the surface for hours, where it can easily spread to others.

The solution: Cover your cough with a tissue, and then throw it away immediately. Alternately, turn away and use the inside of your elbow to catch a cough or sneeze.

And wash your hands frequently. Soap and water work best. Spend at least 20 to 30 seconds lathering before rinsing off and drying your hands. Sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice or the ABC's once to gauge the proper amount of time. Hand sanitizer is effective, too, but only in concentrations containing 60% or higher alcohol, and only if applied liberally - enough to keep hands wet for 30 seconds or more.

"This is a new era for hand hygiene," Wald says. "Now there are signs posted in schools and in hospitals. I try to educate people when I see them do the wrong thing, and it just takes years and years. You do the best you can and try to educate kids because you don't want them to get sick."

Education was the key last month when Meriter and the University of Wisconsin-Madison held a workshop aimed at getting information to child-care centers and family care providers. The H1N1 Pandemic Program Planning session (available for viewing online at the city channel: www.cityofmadison.com/mcc12/streaming.html) stresses what steps those who care for children can take to keep germs from spreading rapidly.

Says Richards, who spoke at the session: "We're more focused on the fact that illness really impacts the child as well as the parents and the workplace in general. If we can keep the kids healthy, it will have a positive effect on all of those areas."

Pam Bennett, manager at the Meriter Children's Center, says focusing on hand washing makes sense because it's so effective, and kids love the sensory experience of using soap and water. "Teaching them this simple life skill is really helpful," she says.

The Children's Hospital of Wisconsin last month launched a new website aimed at teaching kids four simple steps to flu prevention. With characters including Captain Cough and Misty Clean, Children's Flu Fighters (childrensflufighters.com) urges kids to 1. Wash your hands. 2. Cover your cough. 3. Sneeze in your sleeve. 4. Take the day off.

"Everyone, even children, has a role to play when it comes to stopping the spread of germs," says Seth Foldy, state health officer and administrator of the Wisconsin Division of Public Health of this campaign that makes teaching about flu fun.

Making it fun works when teaching washing technique, says Red Caboose Preschool teacher Lee Szuch. "In my class, I'm quite silly, but I'm pretty strict too. I make sure they're doing the right thing. The best thing you can do is to make it fun," Szuch says of the necessary hand-washing task. Szuch uses the smell test to get kids to the sink with a smile.

Last month, the Madison School District put its pandemic plan into action. Brief, age-appropriate flu-prevention lesson plans were taught in all schools. In addition, the district sent home information on guidelines for keeping kids home, and tips on prevention. Some recommend watching a Centers for Disease Control video (www.cdc.gov/CDCTV/HandsTogether/index.html) to understand good hand-washing technique.

District Health Services coordinator Freddi Adelson says Madison schools will work with public-health officials to make H1N1 vaccine available in schools for those who want to receive it there. So far, they've made available more soap and towels as well as providing sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer to elementary classrooms.

"We're really focused on prevention and having everyone taking responsibility to do everything they can to protect themselves," Adelson says. "We hope people respect the advice to stay home."u

Kids critics choice

Kalaanjali School of Dance
Oct. 10, Overture Hall Rotunda, 9:30 am, 11 am & 1 pm
Overture's free Kids in the Rotunda series introduces your child to classical Indian dance (assuming you haven't already done so).

They Might Be Giants
Oct. 11, Barrymore Theatre, 4 pm
The veteran alt-rock band now make goofy music for kids, both on TV shows and CDs. They perform a family concert.

Halloween Week
Oct. 27-30, Wisconsin Historical Museum
The museum amps up the spooky quotient with movies, crafts and - of course - educational tidbits.

Beakers & Broomsticks
Oct. 30, Madison Children's Museum, 5:30-8 pm
A Halloween costume parade, music and trick-or-treating at participating businesses on State Street and the Capitol Square.

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