I discovered fatherhood for the first time at the age of 61; I discovered sick kids a few years later and became a hapless victim of school germs.
While I love my son, I do not love the germ circus he backpacks between preschool and home. Every parent reading this knows what I’m talking about. A University of Utah School of Medicine study found a correlation between virus susceptibility in the household and the number of children present:
- 0 children – Four weeks of the year (7 percent of the time)
- one child – 18 weeks of the year (35 percent of the time)
- two children –29 weeks of the year (56 percent of the time)
- six children – Forty-five weeks of the year (87 percent of the time)
The study also found that parents with small children under the age of five (preschoolers) are an additional 1.5 times more likely to be sick because children of this age group have at least one virus present in their mucus 50 percent of the time.
And it’s not just colds and running noses kids drag home with them. These smiley faced sweet little disease vectors can infect the entire family with contagious diseases such as influenza, parvovirus, HFMD (hand, foot, and mouth disease), chicken pox/shingles, and even scarlet fever.
“Children gathering in schools is one of the main ways germs circulate in communities,” says Dr. Athena P. Kourtis, pediatrician and author of Keeping Your Child Healthy in a Germ-Filled World.
Dr. Jackie Romanies adds, “Think of it like a giant petri dish. If you have 25 children in a class, that’s 250 sticky, germy little fingers that come into contact with lots of germy things every day.”
The Problem Is With Their Immune Systems
“The germs aren’t the problem,” Dr. Romanies said. “It’s the immune system. Constant colds suggest an immune system deficiency.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agrees. Young children have more colds than older children and adults because they haven’t built up immunity (defenses) to the more than 100 different cold viruses that are around. Children can catch colds from siblings, parents, other family members, playmates, or caregivers. Children with older siblings and those who attend day care have more colds. Once you’ve had a cold virus, you become immune to that virus, so children have fewer colds as they get older.
Kids Like To Touch And Be Touched
If adults went to work and were constantly kissing and touching the faces of their colleagues, well, HR might have something to say about that. But for children, it’s natural to hug and touch and share toys and saliva – and of course cough in each other’s little faces.
Then what happens? Parents pick up these fully loaded germ reservoirs, and the hugging and kissing and touching starts all over again.
5 Alternative Ways To Combat School Ills
There’s probably nothing you can do to foolproof the germ handoff between you and your children. Improved hand-washing and mouth covering are obvious. But here are five lesser known things you can attempt in order to ameliorate the impact of the back-to-school plague:
- Wash Toys – Kimberly Zemke, Department Chair of Nursing at Minnesota’s Argosy University, recommends washing toys at a minimum of once a week in a dishwasher without the drying cycle (to prevent melting). “Engage children old enough to help dry freshly washed blocks or rubber toys,” Zemke said. “This not only removes germs, but also reinforces skills and patterns the children will carry with them into the future.” Backpacks and bed linens should also be washed once a week minimum.
- Ionized Alkaline Water – While not recommended for real small children under age three, parents and children may benefit from switching to ionized alkaline water created in an electric water ionizer. This notion is not without its critics. However, supporters of ionized water claim the water helps balance your pH and hydrate the body on a cellular level. According to Nedalee Thomas, CEO of Chanson Water USA, “Those who drink it regularly report fewer instances of colds and flus.” Try it and see if it works for your family.
- Strengthen The Immune System – Make sure everyone in the family is eating healthier, non-processed, pesticide-free food. Fruits and vegetables are a good starting point. Dr. Romanies also recommends foods that are seasoned with garlic, and fresh yogurt for probiotics support. She is a big believer in Echinacea tea as well as colloidal silver for a boost to your immune system. “I have no problem with colloidal silver,” Romanies said. “I recommend it when it is needed.” The CDC also recommends school-age children get 10 to 11 hours sleep per night. Sleep deprivation lowers the immune system’s ability to fight off infection.
- Disinfecting Surfaces – A now famous University of Arizona study found that desk surfaces, computer keyboards, and computer mouses ranked high in levels of five bacteria including E. coli, Salmonella (food poisoning), and Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). In fact, the average desk has 400 times more bacteria than a toilet seat. Charles Gerba, microbiology professor at the University of Arizona, said, “Send your child to school with disposable wipes so they can clean off their desk at the end of the day and before and after lunch if they eat at their desk.” However, recent studies show that antimicrobial soaps may play a big role in making people sick, luckily they were recently banned. The safer bet is to go with colloidal silver, which is a safe and extremely effective antimicrobial agent. Simply spray a surface with colloidal silver and within ten minutes your space is disinfected. Younger preschool children may not be able to follow these instructions yet, but Gerba does recommend talking to children about using their own pencil sharpener (not the community one) and not sharing crayons with other children.
- Hydration – Zemke recommends drinking lots of water for proper hydration. Both children and adults can benefit from staying hydrated. Staying hydrated keeps the lining of the nose moist. The mucous membrane in the nose is the first line of defense and acts like a sticky flypaper trap to prevent dust, dirt, and bacteria from entering the lungs. Children are at greater risk of dehydration than adults, as they have higher water requirements in relation to their body weight. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies recommends five cups a day for children 4 to 8 years of age.
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A Word About Antibacterial Soap
The lead microbiologist at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Colleen Rogers, has gone on record as saying that there’s no evidence antibacterial soap is any more effective than plain soap and water. Now there’s evidence some antibacterial soaps are downright dangerous.
“Antibacterial soap products contain chemical ingredients, such as triclosan and triclocarban, which may carry unnecessary risks given that their benefits are unproven,” said Zemke. “There are also indications that certain ingredients in these soaps may contribute to bacterial resistance to antibiotics, and may have unanticipated hormonal effects.”
Earlier this month (September 2016), the FDA banned triclosan, triclocarban, and 17 other chemicals commonly used in antibacterial soap. Theresa Michele of the FDA said any soap product that makes antibacterial claims probably contains at least one of these banned ingredients.
Unfortunately, the FDA is giving companies that use these chemicals a one year grace period to continue to potentially make us ill.
Meanwhile, I’m grabbing my cleats and surgical mask.
It’s time for my son’s preschool soccer practice …
Thomas Ropp is a longtime journalist and environmental advocate and proponent of living healthier. After spending most of his life in Arizona, he relocated to a Costa Rican rainforest 10 years ago and helped with reforestation projects to expand the habitat of the endangered mono titi monkey. He has dual residency in the United States and Costa Rica.
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