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: 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 ( 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 ( 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.

comments powered by Disqus

More to read

Loading More Articles
No More Articles

Mama Madison: Melissa Wardy of Verona pushes positive messages

I've always been a supporter of companies that empower women and girls, and when the creator of such a company is a fellow Wisconsinite, I get even more excited. When Verona resident Melissa Wardy got fed up with stereotypes found in clothing for girls, she started her own company.

Mama Madison: Three cheers for reading at the Wisconsin Book Festival

Do you have a little reader or an aspiring teenaged writer in your house? If so, you may want to venture to the Wisconsin Book Festival this weekend, to whet their appetite for wonderful words as well as your own.

Mama Madison: What's in a name?

When I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I had two names picked out. Upon her arrival we had not yet come to a conclusion on what that name would be. Everyone told us that when we saw her we would just know. We didn't.

Mama Madison: Eugster's is more than just a visit to the farm

At age 10 months, my kids have seen the zoo a lot already. I was a zoology major in college, and I have something of a zoo addiction still, so the twins (and their dad) are more or less condemned to a future rife with zoo visits.

Help for home-schoolers at the Madison Mentor Center

Home-schooling can be a lonely proposition. Even as a college professor, Juliana Hunt remembers struggling to find support to home-school her now-grown daughter. "I was always hoping to find like-minded people who were in the same position as me," she says. "I know that children learn best through a give-and-take, question-and-answer process of teaching and learning, but where do you find mentors who can make that happen?"

Mama Madison: Yummy Sprout is a wonderful resource

After sleep patterns, I think the next biggest parenting concern I have and hear about revolves around the topic of food. How can I make sure my kids are eating enough vegetables? Did I pack them a lunch that is healthy enough? What can I feed them after school that doesn't come from a box? How many gripes am I going to get about the dinner I'm about to prepare?

Mama Madison: Tips and tricks for baby air travel

As far as places to embark on Baby's First Air Travel go, Dane County Regional Airport is a pretty sound choice, especially at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night. My biggest fear was that my nine-month-old son would start screaming in the airport; my second biggest fear was that my son would start screaming and some of my former Epic colleagues would be around to hear it.

Mama Madison: Apple-picking time

The recent shift in the weather is just another sign that autumn is fast approaching. That means one of my favorite activities is just around the corner -- apple picking. My husband and I have been picking apples every fall since before our kids were born.

Mama Madison: Baby feeding recommendations

I have a lot of questions about what to put on my eight-month-olds' plates -- and, if I'm honest, a deep and abiding fear of putting the wrong thing there. Did I start them on solid foods at the right time? What's the deal with baby-led weaning -- how much self-feeding should they be doing? At what age should I give them potential allergens like shellfish or nut products?

Heartland Farm Sanctuary helps animals that help kids

Lily the potbellied pig arrived at Heartland Farm Sanctuary blind, lethargic and too overweight to walk. The children of Heartland's summer day camp program took it upon themselves to put the curl back in her tail.

Mama Madison: Back-to-school confidences

Is it just me or does each summer seem to go by quicker than the last? The end of summer is upon us and for many families this means the start of a new school year.

Mama Madison: Does back-to-school really mean a whole new wardrobe?

This past week, on the way to the grocery store, my daughter asked what I believed she thought would be a innocuous question, "Mom, when are we going back-to-school shopping?"

Mama Madison: Next generation of bloggers

Volunteering with the Young Writers Summer Camp this past week really helped me to remember how utterly creative kids can be when encouraged to come up with their own ideas and use their own words.

Mama Madison: Returning to the workforce

This past week I gleefully accepted an offer for new job on the UW-Madison campus. My kids are getting are older and I guess I've felt for a while now that it was time to figure out what would be next for me on the professional front.

Triathlons raise money to teach kids healthy habits

"Kids spend so much time in and around school, it's the only place where some have a chance to develop an appreciation for a healthy lifestyle," says Katie Hensel, founder and executive director of Tri 4 Schools.

Mama Madison: Kids will find their own passions in their own ways

"I'm envious, mom," said my twelve-year-old daughter as she hopped in the car after theater camp last week. "All the other kids in my group seem to really like, and to be really good at, singing, dancing and acting. But I think all those things are just okay."

Vital work is being done at the Lussier Community Education Center, from community-building to STEM skills

"People are looking to book space here all the time," says Remy Fernández-O'Brien, communications and facilities coordinator for the Lussier Community Education Center, a private, nonprofit community center on Madison's west side. "They want to throw their child's first birthday party here or hold a Girl Scout meeting. We're really busy year-round, but it's especially lively here in the summer."

Mama Madison: Parental dice rolls?

Last week, in response to the county-wide Sleep Safe, Sleep Well public health campaign that encourages parents to "share the room, not the bed" with their sleeping infants, Isthmus contributor Ruth Conniff penned a lovely opinion piece in defense of bed sharing entitled "Confessions of a Co-Sleeper."

Mama Madison: What constitutes a keepsake?

As much as I'd like to believe there is latent genius in my daughter's early finger paintings, I'm pretty sure her works are not distinguishable from those created by the pointer fingers and pinkies of thousands of other children from across the world.

Mama Madison: Young love

Seeing Romeo and Juliet this past weekend was a definite reminder that I need to prepare for something that might resemble a (near) West Side Story around our place pretty soon.