Once you become a parent, protecting your children against deadly germs takes on a whole new meaning. It’s not just about hand-washing, although that’s important, too; there are a multitude of dangerous germs and bacteria lurking everywhere you look. Some are obvious, others less so. These tips will help to make you aware of the possibilities of contracting germs in various situations, and of ways to avoid them.
Tip #1: Avoid Sharing
We’ve always been taught that sharing is good, haven’t we? That may be true when you’re talking about toys or sweets, but not when it comes to sharing water or drink bottles, straws, sippy cups or even coffee mugs! One of the fastest ways to pass on a virus is through contact with infected bodily fluids, and saliva is top of the list for viruses such as influenza and ebola.
Even water fountains are known to contain more harmful bacteria than a toilet seat, because people touch the spigot with either their fingers or mouths. Teach your children not to use public fountains (or faucets in restrooms) to drink from unless they first:
- Wash their hands thoroughly with soap
- Let the water run for a few minutes to wash away any loose bacteria
- Drink without touching the faucet or spigot with their mouths
Even using two straws in the same drink can be risky, because bacteria from the saliva of both drinkers can enter the liquid and be passed on.
Tip #2: Be Alert in Medical Waiting Rooms
It’s difficult to avoid medical waiting rooms, because when you or your children are sick where else do you go but your doctor, pediatrician or the local emergency room?
Remember, sick people pass through waiting rooms all the time, and many don’t realize they are touching the furniture, the door handles or even the pen they use to complete their medical history with the same hands they just used to blow their noses. You can’t really avoid touching the same surfaces, but don’t leave your child unattended and teach him (or her) to avoid touching his face as far as possible while the two of you are there.
What you can do, however, is be alert while you’re there. Make a point of teaching your child to wash his hands before eating or drinking, regardless of where he has been and what he has touched. This will help to prevent the transference of germs to his system where they can make him ill.
Tip #3: Take Pet Precautions
We all know someone who swears pets are cleaner than people and that they don’t carry disease, but that isn’t true of all animals. Young children are particularly vulnerable to the germs that abound in animals’ mouths, so don’t allow Fido to lick your toddler’s face or mouth. Make sure he doesn’t get to play anywhere near the cat’s litter box, and teach him to always, always wash up thoroughly after playing with the pet.
When you visit that staple of toddler entertainment, the petting zoo, be extra careful about holding onto your child’s tiny hands to prevent him from touching the animals and then sucking his thumb. Farm animals aren’t too particular about their hygiene habits, and it’s not unheard of to find traces of feces sticking to their hides. Once your child comes into contact with this, e. Coli could be on the horizon.
Tip #4: Avoid Food Dangers
Children don’t always recognize when food is less than fresh, or when it doesn’t taste too good. Germs and bacteria are drawn to foods such as lukewarm formula, days-old milk and pre-cooked meat or fish. Any of these can present your child with a risk of food poisoning, salmonella or general bacterial contamination.
Until children are old enough to understand how to manage food and what is safe to eat, you’ll need to supervise carefully what they put in their mouths. Throw out Baby’s unfinished milk or formula, keep all consumables in the refrigerator to avoid bacteria moving in and multiplying, and sterilize or wash all eating utensils carefully before use.
Tip #5: Don’t Play the Blame Game
In spite of all the precautions, there will be times when your child gets sick. When that happens, it’s important to avoid blaming anyone – yourself, the child or others with whom he has had contact. Rather, focus your efforts on getting him to your family doctor or the emergency room and obtaining the care he needs to get well. Otherwise you’ll end up feeling guilty and paranoid, the child will be insecure and unsure of what he can and can’t do and family members and friends will be visiting you armed with big bottles of hand sanitizer!