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School Season Equals Germ Season: Tips for Keeping Healthy

September 22, 2009

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. - The best offense is a good defense when it comes to preventing infections, as children head back to school. With the threat of H1N1 on the horizon and no vaccine available until October, old-fashioned basics are the best protection from the swine flu and many other viruses and bacteria. That's the advice from Karen Regan, supervisor of nurses for New Bedford Schools.

She says there are three basics to remember: cover, as in cover coughs and sneezes; protect, as in limit contact with people who are ill, and if you're sick, stay home; and the biggie is using plenty of soap and warm water.

"Washing your hands regularly is the most powerful thing you can do to prevent infections. Wash your hands often during the day, especially before preparing or eating food, and before and after taking care of someone who is sick."

While H1N1 has received a lot of attention, seasonal flu, the common cold, and other infections result in more than 22 million school absences nationwide each year. Regan says understanding how these infections spread through the air, or on surfaces, is important when thinking about prevention.

"Cover your mouth and nose if you cough or sneeze, cough or sneeze into a tissue, if possible, or sneeze into the crease of your elbow. Something else that is very important is to avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth."

Regan says schools are breeding grounds for germs because of close contact with others and so many shared surfaces. She cites research that shows some viruses and bacteria can live more than two hours on a doorknob or a desk, which means those surfaces need frequent cleaning, too.

More tips for avoiding infections are available online from The Partnership for Healthcare Excellence at

Deb Courson, Public News Service - MA