Q: It seems so far my son’s winter has gone like this — cold, cold, ear infection, antibiotics, cold again. It would be helpful to know the germiest things he comes into contact with during his day. That way, I can douse him in sanitizer immediately after. Are there certain places or things he should definitely avoid?
A: Eek. I know exactly what you mean. Basically my kids have one long cold all fall and winter long, complete with runny nose and booger whiskers. Charming, I know. The thing is, with toddlers, or any kids for that matter, you are not going to be able to absolutely avoid anything, but at least you can be well-armed with the info you need so you’ll know when to break out the “hi-tizer” as my son calls it!
1. The playground. Uch, double uch (is there such thing as a triple uch?). The playground is a prime breeding ground for all sorts of illnesses, and that’s because everyone’s kids (except your little angels, of course) put their grimy hands on everything. There’s also no rule about not coming to the playground if you’re sick (thank God for that), so chances are there’s some pretty interesting stuff lurking on the monkey bars or the swing set handles. The worst place at the playground? The sandbox, and that’s because, according to experts, animals can poop in there and give your child parasites — lovely! So either keep your child away, or if that’s impossible, give them a good bath once you get home.
2. Public restrooms. Have you ever tried to change your toddler or infant on those public changing tables in public bathrooms? Chances are that you have. Have you ever wiped down the changing table after you’re done with an antibacterial wipe? Probably not. Case in point — a changing table in a coffee shop in Denver. If you’ve gotta use ‘em — try putting a disposable liner down first, like the Chux they use in the hospital. Then wrap up everything inside (except for your baby) and chuck it. (And check out this article on the germiest places in public restrooms.)
3. The doctor’s office. Ironically, your kid can actually get sick from your doctor’s office. And that’s because kids who are there for sick visits are wiping their noses with their hands and then playing with that model train set in the waiting room — the one that your son is playing with … right … now. Some doctor’s offices are diligent about cleaning their waiting room toys or books, and some have separate sick or well waiting areas, but some do not. Better safe than sorry — encourage your child to wash his hands once you get into the examining room.
4. The supermarket. No surprise here. Because of the sheer volume of people frequenting your local grocery store every day, it’s chock full of nasty germs on all sorts of surfaces — from the floor, to the shopping carts, to the buttons on the credit card machine at the checkout line. If your toddler’s like mine, the first thing he’ll do when you put him in that cart is start gnawing on the cart handle, which horrifyingly harbors all sorts of nasty bacteria (including E. coli). So do your child a favor and wipe down the cart handle before you put your little one in (some supermarkets now give out wipes right by the shopping carts). Then, don’t let him out of the cart if you can help it, and keep him busy with a toy from home while you’re signing the signature pad at the checkout counter. If all else fails, use some of that hand sanitizer as soon as you get to your car. Or better yet, leave your child at home.
5. The public water fountain. Experts found that the drinking fountain in some schools actually had more germs than the toilet seat. And one Oregon student’s science experiment found that the water coming from his school’s toilets was cleaner than the water at the fountain. ‘Nuff said.
The moral of the story, folks? You can’t protect your kids from all germs but you can be smart when your kids are exposed to the nastiest of the nasty — wash their hands well after visits to the playground and the supermarket, and better send them to school with a reusable water bottle from home.