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Millions of germs and bacteria await kids at school.

Homework isn't all that American children are bringing home from school--they're also likely bringing home thousands of microscopic germs. NSF International (NSF), an independent, not-for-profit organization, recently collected and tested samples and found as many as 2.7 million bacterial cells per square inch on common school surfaces such as water fountains, desks, computer keyboards, bus seats, and cafeteria trays.

"We collected samples from many different surfaces commonly used in a typical elementary school," said Rob Donofrio, director of the microbiology and molecular biology for NSF. "What we found was that surfaces where one would expect the most germs and bacteria, such as toilets and door handles, actually have fewer germs because they are cleaned and disinfected most often. Other surfaces, such as drinking-water fountains and headphones, are often overlooked and, as a result, have even more microorganisms."

NSF's startling findings include the following:

* Drinking-water fountain spigots had the highest amount of bacteria on the tested surfaces--2.7 million bacterial cells/[in.sup.2].

* A cafeteria tray had more than 10 times as many germs as a toilet seat (33,800 bacterial cells/[in.sup.2] versus 3,200 bacterial cells/[in.sup.2]).

* A student's hand had 1,500 bacterial cells/[in.sup.2].

* Commonly cleaned areas, such as desks and doorknobs, had fewer germs (19 bacterial cells/[in.sup.2] and 5 bacterial cells/[in.sup.2], respectively), while computer keyboards and earphones had significantly more, at 260 bacterial cells/[in.sup.2] and 740 bacterial cells/[in.sup.2], respectively.

While not all germs are harmful, their existence suggests the presence of viruses and bacteria that can lead to the common cold and flu, or even to serious foodborne illnesses such as E. coli and Salmonella. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 164 million days of school are lost each year as a result of illness--up to half of which could be eliminated with proper handwashing.

"While these findings are startling, it's also reassuring to know that handwashing is the single most effective way to prevent the spread of germs and bacteria," says William Fisher, vice president at NSF International. "Because kids are particularly vulnerable to the spread of germs and illness, we have created the Scrub Club[TM]--an interactive, online Web site that teaches kids how to properly wash their hands."

Developed by NSF International, The Scrub Club[TM] ( provides a fun way for kids to learn the importance of handwashing to fight infectious and foodborne diseases. Each of the Scrub Club kids represents one of the six steps in the hand-washing process--"Hot Shot" and "Chill" combine to make the warm water essential for proper handwashing, "Squeaks" turns into various forms of soap, "Taki" becomes a clock that counts down the required 20 seconds for proper handwashing, "Scruff" reminds kids to clean around their nails, "Tank" turns into a sink to rinse away the germs, and "P.T." transforms into paper towels.

The cornerstone of the Web site is a "Webisode" featuring the Scrub Club as they join forces to fight off harmful germs and bacteria, teaching children the proper way to wash their hands along the way. In addition to the Webisode, there are activities for children to download, educational materials for teachers, program information for parents, and tips and activities for the home that not only enhance the educational value of the site but also make it fun for children to return to the site time and time again.
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Title Annotation:wash hands, the solution
Publication:Journal of Environmental Health
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2006
Previous Article:Environmental Health and the media, Part 3: make noise, make the news.
Next Article:Secondhand smoke linked to health risks in children and women.

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