Stop the Spread of Germs in School to Limit Colds and Flu

Now that children are headed back to school, it’s time to brush up on the best ways to avoid seasonal flu and other illness.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published information on its web site to help parents keep their children healthy.

First, the facts:

  • Approximately 1/5 of the U.S. population attends or works in schools. (U.S. Dept of Ed, 1999).
  • Some viruses and bacteria can live from 20 minutes up to 2 hours or more on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs, and desks. (Ansari, 1988; Scott and Bloomfield, 1989)
  • Nearly 22 million school days are lost annually due to the common cold alone. (CDC, 1996)

Illnesses like colds and flu are generally spread from person to person in respiratory droplets of coughs and sneezes.  This can happen when droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person move through the air and land on the mouth or nose of people nearby.  Sometimes germs can be spread when a person touches another person’s respiratory droplets on a surface such as a desk and then touches his or her own eyes, mouth or nose before washing their hands.

The CDC urges parents to teach children the following common sense rules:

Avoid close contact
Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.

Stay home when you are sick
Stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick to help prevent others from catching your illness.

Cover your mouth and nose
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and then throw the tissue away.  If you don’t have a tissue, cover your cough or sneeze and then clean your hands each time you cough or sneeze.

Clean your hands
Wash your hands with soap and warm water for 15 to 20 seconds. That’s about the same time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.  When soap and water are not available, alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers may be used.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.

Practice other good health habits
Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food

The CDC website also provides recommendations for who should get the flu vaccine.

SOURCE:  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,