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Flu Prevention: Teaching Your Child About Handwashing

February 11th, 2020

A mother and daugher wash hands together

Are you tired of being sick and tired? If so, you may want to think twice about reaching for the hand sanitizer. Behavioral specialist, Jaralee Annice Metcalf, recently joined forces with special education teacher, Dayna Robertson, to conduct a classroom experiment testing the efficacy of antibacterial hand sanitizer versus traditional soap and water against the spread of germs. The results of the experiment have gone viral and the findings may surprise you.

The ‘Holy Moldy’ Bread Experiment

The experiment was conducted with Robertson’s elementary class and centered around a common bacterial breeding ground, classroom computers. One piece of bread was wiped on an unsanitized laptop, another was touched by unwashed hands, and a third piece of bread was touched with hand-sanitized fingers. A fourth slice of bread was touched by hands washed with regular soap and water.

After a few weeks sealed in ziplock bags, the results were clearly visible as the bread began to mold. The slice of bread touched by hand-sanitized fingers were only slightly less moldy than the bread inoculated with the uncleaned laptop and the bread touched by unwashed hands.

"Holy Moldy Bread Experiment" by Jaralee Annice Metcalf

What important lessons can be learned from this handwashing experiment?

  • Alcohol based hand sanitizer just isn’t as effective as washing your hands. If you feel the need to use hand sanitizer, you’re probably better off taking the time to wash your hands.
  • School is often a site of transmission for bacteria and influenza virus. Prevent the spread of flu illness by helping kids build good hygiene habits.
  • For disease control and prevention, incorporating handwashing seamlessly into your child’s routine will help prevent sickness during flu season.

Teaching Children Proper Handwashing

Focusing on teaching your child effective handwashing periodically throughout the day is the key to effective flu prevention during the flu season. Follow this method recommended by the Centers for Disease Control:

  1. Wet hands with clean water at a comfortable temperature and apply soap.
  2. Lather the hands by rubbing them together. Get the suds from the back of the hand to the wrist, between the fingers, and under the nails.
  3. Scrub the hands for a full 20 seconds. Try singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice or other songs as a timer.
  4. Rinse the hands under clean water.
  5. Dry the hands completely with a towel or air dryer.

Additionally, try these tips to help build hygienic habits for protection against influenza:

  • Wash hands habitually. Teach kids to wash hands after using the restroom and before meals. Remind them to wash up after outdoor play or if they’ve been coughing or sneezing. Reminders will help the habit stick.
  • Lead by example. Make sure you are modeling the handwashing routine you want your children to pick up. You can help young children learn by washing up together.

Recognize Common Flu Symptoms

The common symptoms of the flu virus are abrupt fever, chills, body aches, and cough sometimes accompanied by sneezing and sore throat. If your child has flu symptoms they should stay home from school. High risk symptoms accompanying flu activity such as difficulty breathing or other respiratory symptoms should be considered a medical emergency and treated by a professional.

Cold and flu are common in children this time of year, but being sick is no fun. Teaching handwashing is an easy way to cut down on infectious diseases, 24 hour bugs, and other sickness-related absences from school and other activities.