Exposure to germs resumes with the start of classes

Wednesday, August 27, 2014 - 23:00
Wendy Charles, school nurse at Eagle River High School, demonstrates the proper way to wash one’s hands by rubbing one’s fingers and hands together as long as it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song creating a visible amount of lather.

Last week’s trek back-to-school in the Chugiak-Eagle River area featured plenty of trendy and uber cute outfits, new classes, locker assignments and oh yes, a reconvening of the sharing of the germs, viruses and bacteria inadvertently and unintentionally attached to the students who have been separated for the past couple months by summer vacation.

Along with collecting medication slips and getting parental permission signed for this fall’s school-based administration of flu vaccines, the school nurses are back in reminder mode regarding the importance of hand-washing.

“I am constantly reminding the students, the teachers and the staff about how essential good and regular hand-washing is to maintaining their health in the school environment where there can be many viruses and bacteria waiting,” Megan Charles, school nurse at Eagle River High School, explained as she demonstrated the proper way to wash one’s hands. “Too many people don’t wash their hands enough and too many people do not wash their hands properly.”

It may seem elementary, but a quick review of certain portions of kindergarten curriculum is in order to re-teach appropriate hand-washing skills. This goes well beyond using soap and hot water. According to the federal Center for Disease Control, effective hand-washing is a five-step process: Wet, Lather, Scrub, Rinse, Dry.

Charles suggests singing the “Happy Birthday” song during the lather and scrub sections of hand-washing. Rubbing your fingers between one another ensures that the entire hand surface is sanitized. You should work up a respectable lather resembling your hand taking its own private bubble bath.

Charles isn’t kidding about schools being a hot bed for germ activity.

WebMD cites a 2005 CDC study which determined school water fountain spigots and plastic cafeteria tray were leading carriers of germs. Nearly three million bacteria per square inch were identified on the average school water fountain spigot. The average school cafeteria tray had 33,800 bacteria per square inch.

A recent study by Nemours, a non-profit medical and social organization founded in 1936 by Alfred I. du Pont to improve the health of children and teens, proves the school bathroom – or at least an appropriate amount of time spent at its sink – may be the biggest battlefront. Study results showed that only 58 percent of female and only 48 percent of male middle school students washed their hands after using the facilities.

Cindy Hendel, school nurse at Mirror Lake Middle School in Chugiak, knows the hand-washing habits of middle school students are less than perfected but is convinced that more students than indicated in the national Nemours study are washing their hands at MLMS on a regular basis.

Based on the amount of information Hendels puts in front of MLMS students, they ought to be.

She regularly runs humorous hand-washing clips on the school’s morning video news program broadcast into all the classrooms.

She has 25 years of experience as a school nurse and has learned that the more interactive she makes a subject; the more likely middle school students will not only pay attention during the presentation but also apply the information to their daily grind.

She works with school health teachers to do hand-washing demonstrations in the classrooms as well as presenting the glow germs curriculum via which students get an up-close view of the disease-causing bacteria and viruses lurking on the surface of their desk.

Hendels reminds the students and staff at MLMS that they shouldn’t touch public bathroom door handles right after washing their hands. Instead, use an elbow to press the lever or put a paper towel barrier between your clean hand and the potentially dirty surface of door handles, water faucets and even the paper towel dispense, she recommends.

Overall, Hendels figures a quick elementary review of hand-washing is well-accepted by the tweens in middle school.

“When I come into the classroom to do the hand-washing demonstration, they really get in to it. They respond really well to lathering up their hands,” she said. “I notice many of them washing their hands throughout the day between activities.”


Reporter Amy Armstrong can be reached at [email protected].

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