Germs – How to deal with those unwanted little creatures
Germs lurk everywhere – in and on our bodies, in our kitchens and bathrooms and in our classrooms and schools. We can actually live quite happily with most germs thanks to natural defences like our immune systems. In fact, there are many germs we can’t live without. But how do we stop the spread of those germs that do cause us problems?
How are germs spread?
Germs are easily spread in classroom and school environments due to the way children play and because objects are so often shared in schools. The billions of germs passed among schoolchildren cause a huge variety of illnesses, including the common cold and influenza – not that teachers need to be told this! Germs can be spread in schools in the following ways:
- Direct contact; e.g. holding hands, playing contact sports. Many germs are spread by hand contact (e.g. the common cold) and by the faecal–oral route (e.g. E. coli).
- Indirect contact; e.g. touching desks, door handles, computer keyboards, toilets, drinking fountains and toys. Some germs can live on these surfaces for several hours. Some particularly nasty germs that have been found in schools include strep throat, meningitis and staphylococcus aureus (food poisoning).
- Respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes (which are propelled through the air to another person’s mouth or nose). Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a common virus in young children that can cause pneumonia and bronchiolitis, can be spread through coughing.
What can be done to stop germs spreading in the classroom or school?
- Scientists have found that the most effective way of stopping the transmission of germs is the simplest of things – washing our hands. Teach students to wash their hands after going to the toilet, touching class pets, handling money or playing outside, as well as before and after they eat and after they cough, sneeze or blow their noses.
- Teach your class to wash their hands effectively. According to research, most of us do not wash our hands well enough to prevent the spread of germs. The most effective way is to use warm water and soap (preferably liquid). The hands should be rubbed together under the running water for 15 seconds (students could time themselves by singing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star). The hands should then be dried thoroughly (paper towels are best) and then the tap should be turned off using a paper towel. Tell students to dispose of their used paper towels in the bin.
- Ask your students to wash their hands after classroom activities that involve messy materials or direct contact with others. If you don’t have a sink in your classroom, consider supplying a large basin, soap and a jug of water for the students.
- Make students aware of how easily germs spread by representing germs with cold cooked rice or large flakes of glitter. Coat one student’s hands in the rice or glitter and have him/her shake hands with another student. Repeat the process.
- Wipe desks with antiseptic solution after group activities occurring before recess or lunch.
- Make sure there are plenty of tissue boxes available in the classroom and encourage students to use them. Tissues should also be available in other places students visit in the school, such as the library.
- Encourage students to cover their mouths and noses with a tissue if they cough or sneeze and then dispose of their used tissues in the bin.
- Encourage students not to put objects such as pencils, crayons or rulers in their mouths.
- Ask students not to share drink bottles or eating utensils with others.
- Wash classroom toys regularly in hot, soapy water. Dry them with paper towels.
- Put up posters in the classroom or around the school that encourage students to wash their hands regularly and cover their coughs or sneezes. The students may like to design their own as part of an art or SOSE lesson.
Bakalar, N. (2003). Where the germs are. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons