Got Germs?

. January 25, 2013.

Let’s face it—kids aren’t exactly the kings and queens of clean. After all,they’ve been known to share pacifiers, sippy cups and juice boxes, use their hands as a Kleenex and sneeze into the stratosphere. And then there are the bad bugs they can pick up in places you’d least expect. Playgrounds,restaurant high chairs and petting zoos can be serious germ zones. Here’s how to protect your child.

Germy Zone: The playground. Your local jungle gym is more germ-infested than a public bathroom, according to one study. Why? “Restrooms tend to get disinfected often,” says Kelly Reynolds, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Arizona College of Public Health, in Tucson.”But playground equipment almost never gets cleaned.” Harmful germs—such as those in the mucous that kids wipe from their noses—can linger for days. Germ defense: Tempted to clean ladders and handles with a disinfecting wipe? Don’t bother. It’s practically impossible to keep up with all the germs. Instead, teach your child not to touch his mouth, nose or eyes when he/she is at the playground, and clean his/her hands with an alcohol-based hand gel before leaving the park.

Germy zone: your pediatrician’s waiting room. Don’t be fooled by the antiseptic smell. With all the sick little patients, the waiting room is a virtual petri dish. Germ defense: Have your child wash her hands before going to the doctor so they’ll be less likely to pass along a bug to other kids. If he/she is getting a checkup, ask if there’s a well-child waiting area (where the germ load is bound to be lower). Take along your own toys and books so she doesn’t play with communal ones.

Bug magnet: water fountains. A typical drinking fountain contains more harmful germs than a public toilet seat, according to a recent study at elementary schools by NSF International, a nonprofit health and safety organization based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Kids tend to touch the spigot with their fingers or their mouths, passing on germs to the next person who drinks. Cold and flu viruses can persist on the metal for up to five hours. Germ defense: Teach your child to keep his lips (and fingers) off the spigot and to let the water run for a few seconds before sipping. “That helps wash away harmful organisms,” says Robert Donofrio, director of the microbiology lab at NSF International.

Bug magnet: computer keyboards. There are more germs on school computer keyboards than on doorknobs, according to the NSF study. That’s because door handles are polished daily; keyboards are rarely (if ever) cleaned. Germ defense: Teach your child to sneeze into the crook of her arm and to blow his/her nose with a tissue, so they’re less likely to spread germs to keyboards and computer mice. At home, have them wash their hands before and after using the computer. Wipe the keyboard with a disinfectant cloth once a week—and whenever someone with a cold uses it.

Bug magnet: public high chairs. A restaurant may be kid-friendly, but that doesn’t mean it’s germ-proof. Chances are the chair you plop your toddler into hasn’t been disinfected since the last child used it. Your high chair at home may not be so clean either: germs commonly fester in corners and crannies you can’t reach. Germ defense: Bring along a disposable high-chair cover to protect your child at restaurants, or use a disinfecting wipe to clean it. Wipe down your child’s home high chair after every meal with disinfecting spray and a paper towel. And also consider getting a model made with antimicrobial plastic, which does some of the germ killing for you.