UK News

5 of the most germ-rich places in schools

It will come as no surprise to anyone that schools are bacterial. Children often get sick with colds, gastrointestinal problems and more – and so do teachers, school staff and parents.

While viruses – as we know from Covid-19 – can float in the air, they are also found on surfaces in schools and other public spaces.

“In general, the most germ-rich places and surfaces will be those that are repeatedly touched by multiple people without cleaning them.” dr S. Wesley Longthe medical director of diagnostic microbiology at Houston Methodist Hospital, told HuffPost via email.

Accordingly dr Anne LiuClinical Associate Professor of Infectious Diseases at Stanford Medicine in California, this applies to both respiratory viruses (such as Covid, RSV and influenza) and norovirus, more colloquially known as the gastrointestinal virus.

Below, doctors reveal the most germ-ridden places in schools and how to protect children from disease.

door handles

As mentioned above, touch-sensitive surfaces are very sterile – and so are doorknobs, which virtually every person in a class touches.

“People cough on their hands when they enter a classroom, then open the door and right after them the other kids come and all touch the same surfaces,” Liu said.

According to Liu, there is less risk of spreading the virus if there is a longer period of time between touches of the door handle. But in a place like a school, where students are likely to walk back-to-back in a classroom, there isn't time for the amount of viruses to drop at one go.

“Especially during the seasons when children who have symptoms and are coughing and sneezing into their hands, these [high-touch] Objects are likely to carry many transmissible viable viruses,” Liu added.

Liu noted that children especially have a hard time not touching their face unconsciously, which can lead to diseases transmitted from places like doorknobs spreading to their mouth, eyes or nose.

She stressed the importance of teaching children the importance of washing their hands properly before they start school.

water fountains

“Multiple studies have shown that water fountains can be a place for microbes to congregate, since the human mouth is full of bacteria and water tends to splash out of the face and mouth onto the faucet,” Long said.

In addition, this is one of the shared, frequently touched surfaces that pose an increased risk for the spread of viruses.

Just think about it: many kids touch the fountain every day, whether it's sipping water or refilling their reusable water bottles.

If you are sick, staying at home is the best option.  However, if this is not possible, it is important to wear a mask.

FatCamera via Getty Images

If you are sick, staying at home is the best option. However, if this is not possible, it is important to wear a mask.

Common keyboards and computer mice

According to Liu, other highly touch-sensitive shared objects such as communal keyboards or computer mice are also warning signs of the spread of germs. This could be computers in the school library or even a computer used for student presentations.

It's important that children (and teachers!) sanitize or wash their hands after touching these potentially dirty surfaces.

Reusable cafeteria trays

While cafeteria plates and cups are washed after each use, the same is not always true of reusable cafeteria trays.

They are touched by many different students without cleaning them, making them a germ-ridden item. According to Long, these reusable trays can be “sources of infection.”

Note: Bathrooms are not as germ-ridden as you might think

“Interestingly, toilet surfaces are often cleaned frequently, so toilets may be one of the cleanest places in a school,” Long said. (But it's still important to wash your hands after using the restroom.)

While the bathrooms themselves aren't as dirty as is often assumed, the door handles are, Long noted.

Viruses can also spread through airborne droplets

“When doors and windows are closed in autumn and winter, the air naturally carries viruses and droplets,” Liu said. “And we've seen how transmissible some of these respiratory viruses can be.”

She found that respiratory viruses are largely spread by people staying close together (which certainly happens in schools), through coughing, sneezing and even just breathing.

That's why it's important for students, teachers and school staff to stay home or at least wear a mask when they're sick, he said dr Philip J Landriganthe director of the Global Public Health and Welfare Program at Boston College.

“Masks are still a very useful tool to reduce the spread of infection at school,” Landrigan said.

Landrigan added that the entire school environment is a breeding ground for the spread of viruses.

It's no coincidence that all sorts of respiratory illnesses that tend to be rare in summer become more common within weeks of school starting,” he noted — and that's not a new post-pandemic trend, it's been the case for decades.

There are ways for students and teachers to stay healthy

When you're sick, it's important to stay home to prevent the spread of germs. If you are unable to do so, wear a mask – especially when coughing or sneezing.

In addition, washing hands with soap and water is important. “Hand sanitizer doesn't kill norovirus, the most common form of community-acquired gastroenteritis, or diarrheal disease,” Liu said. “Washing hands with soap and water is really necessary to reduce norovirus.”

Vaccination is also a good way to stay healthy for students, teachers and their families. “Every child, except those who have a medical contraindication, should be vaccinated against COVID, against RSV and against influenza, the three major viruses,” Landrigan said.

Long noted that children should also complete their regular childhood vaccination course, which can be discussed with their doctor.

And if a child catches any virus, it's important to keep track. “If a child develops a respiratory infection and it seems like it's more than just a mild cold, they should definitely see their pediatrician [or] Visit your nurse,” Landrigan said.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button