Allercy and Asthma Health
The Official Publication of AAN - MA

Four Respiratory Hygiene Tips Your Kids Can Take Back to School

By Thomas J. Kallstrom, MBA, RRT, FAARC

The weather is good, summer is still in full swing, and you and your children are thinking more about enjoying the season than you are about the respiratory infections that usually crop up during the colder months of the year.

But with the 2010–2011 school year just around the corner, now is the perfect time to lay the groundwork your family will need to make sure fewer of those bugs hit your kids this year. If we learned anything from last year’s major outbreak of H1N1 influenza (swine flu), it’s that schools are a prime location for the spread of respiratory infections. However, the pandemic also taught us there are a lot of ways parents and teachers can cut down on transmission, too.

How infections spread, and what to do about it

Respiratory infections like the flu are most often spread when droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person travel through the air and land in the nose or mouth of another person. But people can also catch these bugs when they touch a surface touched by an infected person and then bring their hand to their own nose, eyes, or mouth.

To avoid transmission, parents should address these four simple measures with their children and teachers before school begins:

  1. Cover your coughs and sneezes: If the child has a tissue handy, have him use that to cover his mouth and nose, but if not, have him cough or sneeze into his sleeve. Unless your child can wash his hands immediately after coughing or sneezing, covering coughs and sneezes with the hands only increases the chances that the germs will spread when your child touches a surface.
  2. Wash your hands often: Frequent hand washing with soap and warm water is a great way to cut back on the spread of infections. But teach your child to wash for at least 15 to 20 seconds. A good way to gauge the time is to have her sing “Happy Birthday” twice while washing—that will result in about the right amount of time.
  3. Ensure your child’s classroom is supplied with an alcohol-based hand rub: Since kids can’t always leave the classroom to wash their hands, providing an alcohol-based hand rub they can use whenever they need to is a quick, easy way to minimize bugs. Ask the teacher to keep it on her desk or in another location where she can supervise its use.
  4. Make sure your school is keeping the classroom clean: Frequent cleaning of classroom surfaces such as desks, toys, learning tools, and other commonly shared items will help reduce respiratory infections as well.

Of course, you’ll also want to keep a close eye on the availability of the flu vaccine and make sure your children are vaccinated. But in the meantime—and throughout the colds and flu season—practicing good respiratory hygiene can make a big difference. In fact, a recent study found elementary school children in schools where students used proper hand hygiene missed about a half a day less of school during the year than those in schools where proper hand hygiene was not stressed.

Thomas Kallstrom is associate executive director and chief operating officer of the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) and a member of the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program Coordinating Committee.


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