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Schools, health officials stress hygiene to fend off flu

Staff Photo: Erin Evans 
Jasmyn Hayles, 2, of Destiny Starr Creative Learning Academy in Conyers demonstrates her handwashing skills.

Staff Photo: Erin Evans Jasmyn Hayles, 2, of Destiny Starr Creative Learning Academy in Conyers demonstrates her handwashing skills.

It's a simple procedure that, if done correctly, is the most effective way to control the spread of cold and flu germs -- hand-washing.

In light of the most recent threat of the H1N1 flu, schools, hospitals and daycares are making a renewed effort to stress the importance of using soap and water to clean hands often.

Sonya Robinson, assistant director of Destiny Starr Creative Learning Academy, said that her facility performs hand-washing with children upon their arrival at the daycare, after playing on the playground, before and after meals and snacks, and after using the bathroom.

"We've always washed our hands, but we're just making sure that it really gets done" said Robinson who has worked at the child care facility for 11 years.

Signs urging hand-washing are posted in the cafeteria and near sinks.

"I'm a big handwasher myself and I haven't been sick in a very long time," said Robinson.

Rockdale Medical Center Infection Control Manager Joi Fox said the hospital places hand sanitizer in every patient care room and throughout the hospital. Since the H1N1 hit, the hospital has increased its signage educating people about the importance of coughing etiquette which includes handwashing.

People should definitely wash before and after eating and after using the bathroom, said Fox. Hand sanitizer can be used during times when people enter or leave public places. At the hospital, for example, if a worker is delivering ice from room to room, he may use hand sanitizer between each delivery. But, a bandage change requires thorough handwashing.

"The biggest thing to know about handwashing is that it's the No. 1 way to prevent the spread of infections," said Fox.

It's important to wash hands the proper way, stressed Fox.

"Generally people don't provide enough friction when they are washing their hands. One of the little tricks is that once hands are wet and the soap is on the hands, rub all surfaces and pay close attention to fingernails and near and underneath of rings," she said.

"Based on the World Health Organization hand hygiene guidelines, from the time you wet your hands to the time you dry your hands should take about one minute and you really need to provide about a minimum of 15 seconds of good friction with soap and water on your hands."

Both the Rockdale and Newton school systems mounted strong germ-fighting campaigns this year. Directed at students, teachers and parents, the effort included public service announcements on school news programs; posters and signs; the placement of hand sanitizer throughout buildings; training for teachers; education for children; and literature, e-mail and phone calls sent home to parents.

Emphasizing good hand hygiene is just one of many ways school officials have fought to keep germs from spreading, explained Cindy Ball, public relations director for Rockdale County Public Schools. The school system also promoted respiratory etiquette, sending sick students home and advising parents to keep sick children at home. Schools also received toolkits from www.flu.gov for school staff to use as germ fighting resources.

Individual schools also found unique ways to motivate students to keep germs at bay.

At South Salem Elementary School in Newton County, the staff organized a handwashing week. Staff set out a "squirt out germs" sign at the school's main entrance along with a big bottle of hand sanitizer. They also played handwashing commercials on the school news show each day that week, posted handwashing tips and reminders and placed hand sanitizer in every classroom.

Preschool teacher Katie Braselton said she taught her students the handwashing song. Sung to the tune of the "Wheels on the Bus," the song says "the soap on my hands goes sud, sud, sud... and the germs go down the drain."

"It makes them scrub longer," said Braselton.

In Rockdale County, Pine Street Elementary School Principal Tammy Smith said the flu hit somewhat hard in the beginning of the school year, with as many as 60 children out in one day. The school mounted an all-out attack on germs, which included teachers making sure kids not only washed hands before and after eating and after visiting the bathroom, but also after sneezing or coughing or blowing their noses.

Pine Street school staff also used hand sanitizer extensively, cleaned all surfaces regularly with bacterial wipes and hung signs, including oversized posters, urging kids to fight the flu through good hygiene.

Smith also said students with fevers were kept isolated from other children visiting the nurse and parents were reminded that their children must be fever-free for 24 hours before coming to school.

"You always felt like you were doing this before this (outbreak) came along. I don't think we stressed it as much as did. We had Germ-X all over the school," said Smith.

The effort appeared successful.

"I'm going to say I think it worked because by the next week we had 20 out and now we're not seeing high fevers. I think we're over seeing the flu for now," said Smith.

For more information on the importance of hand washing, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site at www.cdc.gov or the World Health Organization Web site at www.who.int/en.

Contact Karen J. Rohr at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.