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In schools, germs lurk where you least expect them
Scripps Howard News Service


September 21, 2005

Every parent knows that elementary schools are notorious germ factories.

But professional microbiologists associated with the nonprofit "Scrub Club" did an experiment with a typical elementary school this month and found fewer germs in places where they might be expected - restrooms, desk tops and on door handles -and far more where even the professionals didn't expect to find them.

Cafeteria trays, for example, had 10 times the germs found on toilet seats, and higher levels were also found on headphones and computer keyboards. But the highest amount of bacteria was found on the spigot of a drinking fountain - 2.7 million bacterial cells per square inch.

"This was just a snapshot in time of an average classroom at the beginning of the year," said Jerry Bowman, director of communications for NSF International, a Michigan-based nonprofit that runs the Scrub Club, a partner with the government's Fight BAC program to reducing bacterial infections in children ages 3 through 8.

With the annual flu season beginning next month, Bowman said the findings should be a lesson to teachers and parents about the importance of proper hand washing. The Centers for Disease Control estimates there are 164 million school days lost to illness each year, which could be reduced with proper hand washing.

Bowman said the survey, conducted by a professional microbiologist using standard industry procedures, showed school janitors did a good job of cleaning toilet areas, sinks and desks, which had low levels of bacterial infection. But less commonly cleaned areas like computer keyboards and cafeteria trays because they are not commonly believed to harbor bacteria.

"We're trying to educate children on the most important public health thing they can do - wash their hands properly," he said.

The Scrub Club is trying to tell children not to just swish their hands under water, but follow a five step procedure that includes rubbing soapy hands for 20 seconds - twice the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday - and using a nail brush.


Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)
Distributed to subscribers by Scripps Howard News Service,

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