Along with all your regular back-to-school preparations, take a minute to teach your kids — even your older kids — how to wash their hands properly. I know that sounds odd. Who doesn't know how to wash their hands? Apparently quite a few children, if the rate of infections in schools is any indication.

Along with all your regular back-to-school preparations, take a minute to teach your kids — even your older kids — how to wash their hands properly. I know that sounds odd. Who doesn't know how to wash their hands? Apparently quite a few children, if the rate of infections in schools is any indication.


There are several common infections that make the rounds of a school throughout the year. Pinkeye, or conjunctivitis is one. It is a highly contagious infection of the lining of the eyelids which results in red, crusty and itchy eyes. It is caused by a virus or bacteria, and transmission can be slowed by good hand washing.


Another infection your child may come into contact with at school is strep throat. This bacterial infection causes an extremely sore throat and often a fever. It is treated with antibiotics after confirmation that it is strep. This bacteria can be halted in part by washing hands well.


Molluscum contagiosum is a skin rash that has a high transmission rate among children and is fairly common among kids ages 1–12. It is caused by a virus that is spread through skin contact, often by the hands, but can also be spread by children touching an object where the virus is present. The best way to prevent it is, you guessed it, proper hand hygiene.


Even pneumonia can be spread by hand to hand contact, as well as through coughs and sneezes that aren't covered. In addition to good hand washing, teaching children (and adults) to sneeze into the crook of their elbow can prevent the bacteria from landing squarely in their hands. Ideally, everyone would wash their hands immediately after a good sneeze, but that isn't realistic in many situations.


Influenza, swine and otherwise, is another example of a viral infection that can be easily transmitted by dirty hands. But unlike the previously mentioned illnesses, influenza can be life-threatening in some cases. According to the Centers for Disease Control, each year an average of 20,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized because of influenza complications. Between 2003 and 2011, an average of 50–150 children died from the flu except during the H1N1 pandemic years, when 345 deaths were reported.


Good hand washing can help prevent the flu, but the best way to keep children safe from this viral infection is by having them vaccinated at the beginning of the flu season. The CDC recommends everyone over the age of 6 months get a flu vaccine. This is especially important for children under the age of 5 and children of any age with chronic health problems like asthma, diabetes and heart disease. These children are at a higher risk of serious complications from the flu if they become infected.


It is also recommended that those who come in close contact with children under the age of 5 or a child of any age with chronic health problems receive the flu vaccine. This would include family members and anyone who cares for these young children in or out of the home.


Experts at the Mayo Clinic recommend washing hands with plain soap and water, following these steps:


Wet your hands with running water. Apply liquid, bar or powder soap. Lather well. Rub your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds. Teach children to sing “Happy Birthday” to themselves two times to make sure they spend adequate time cleansing. Remember to scrub all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers and under your fingernails.


Rinse well.


Dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel or air dryer.


If possible, use your towel to turn off the faucet, especially in public restrooms.


Keep in mind that antibacterial soap is no more effective at killing germs than is regular soap. Using antibacterial soap may even lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to the product's antimicrobial agents — making it harder to kill these germs in the future. The same goes for hand sanitizers that are triclosan-based, so look for ones that have at least a 60 percent alcohol content.


Thorough hand washing and taking advantage of vaccinations when they are available are the best ways to help your children (and yourself) avoid these common infections. Make it a point to review your child's hand washing skills before they return to school this fall. They may stay healthier all year because of it.


 


Pam Maxson is a health educator at Noyes hospital in Dansville. If you have questions or suggestions for future articles, she can be reached at pmaxson@noyes-hospital.org or 585-335-4327.