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germMy family has been to urgent care in five different states. Yes, you read that right. Five different states. Some of these visits were for injuries and accidents: a swallowed penny, a contused elbow, several near-concussions, a dislocated elbow, a vole bite, a broken toe. But many visits were for illnesses, as our three boys were sick all the time when they were young – probably because they climbed, hung from, and jumped off everything and anything, and could hardly go anywhere – the grocery store, library, doctor’s office, public bathroom – without touching everything in sight. They are still that way, actually, but they seem to have built up some immunity now that they are older. Just last week, though, two of them were struck down with fevers and sore throats, and from what I hear, nearly half our campus was absent because of those same symptoms.

It’s timely, then, that Mackintosh Academy parent Aaron Williams will be sharing strategies and recommendations for keeping our children healthy during cold and flu season in an upcoming parent education event, “Keeping the Bugs at Bay,” on February 24 at 6:30 pm, at the Littleton Campus.

Aaron Williams is a National Infection Prevention Director and oversees the Infection Prevention Programs for Catholic Health Initiatives. I was able to ask him a few questions as a precursor to his talk, including what some common myths were that people have about illnesses. Here are a few that he mentioned:

Myth #1: Being cold causes you to catch a cold.

Truth: It makes no difference whether you are warm or cold. Catching a cold is the result of coming in contact with someone or something that has the virus.

Myth #2: Starve a fever.

Truth: Eating provides the body energy to fight off an illness.

Myth #3: Don’t treat cold symptoms.

Truth: Treating cold symptoms can be beneficial because not only can it lessen your misery, it can also reduce the possibility of spreading your illness to others since those very symptoms are the number one way viruses transmit themselves. In other words (my layperson words), the less snot and phlegm you have, the lower the possibility of infecting others with the virus contained in your snot and phlegm.

I also asked Aaron to clarify some myths of my own – whenever someone in our family is sick, I get paranoid about our dishwashing sponge and our toothpaste tube. In response, he told me that he is not an advocate of dish sponges because they are breeding grounds for a number of organisms. As an alternative, he recommends using dish towels that are used once and then washed. As far as toothpaste, he said that the tube itself is less of a concern than the toothbrushes, especially if they are kept in a shared cup or holder. He recommends routinely sterilizing them, especially if someone is sick. I’ve got some work to do!

So what other advice did Aaron have for parents about preventing illness? Essentially the most important things, he said, are to follow good hand hygiene, to not touch our faces with dirty hands, and to use good respiratory etiquette (covering coughs into our elbows, not our hands, and using a tissue for blowing our noses). For hand-washing, soap and water are great for removing, but not killing, organisms from our hands, while alcohol gels such as hand sanitizer are very effective at killing organisms if the gross stuff has already been removed. And in a pinch, there are alcohol impregnated wipes which can do both – he says it depends on what’s handy.

And if you’re like me and feel the urge to wipe down every surface of your house with bleach when illness strikes, Aaron says the biggest areas of concern for transmission are kitchens, bathrooms, and commonly touched or shared surfaces. They should be kept as clean as possible (no backpacks, purses, or briefcases on the kitchen table or counters!) with hydrogen peroxide based cleaners, which are fairly “green” but still work well. To my chagrin, Aaron shared that most “green” products don’t have any scientific claims for efficacy; they make us feel good, but aren’t really eliminating anything, with the exception of white vinegar, which is known to kill some organisms. If being “green” doesn’t matter much to you, 10% bleach solutions are very effective.

We look forward to hearing more from Aaron, and we hope you can attend his talk about helping to keep the bugs at bay on February 24 (please RSVP to beth@mackintoshacademy.com)!

by Alice Kembel- Mack mom of three, speech pathologist, blogger

Mackintosh Academy Littleton