Facing the uncertainty of highly contaminated areas for your child, such as restaurant high chairs, playgrounds, and petting zoos, can be nerve-wracking for parents. Discover how to safeguard your little one from germs at nine notorious locations known for their potential health risks.
There is no way to avoid exposure to germs and bacteria, some of which may cause your child to become ill. If you want to keep your little one safe from germs in high-traffic areas, follow these guidelines.
1. The Children’s Play Area
According to the findings of one study, the jungle gym at your local park is more contaminated with germs than any public restroom. Why? According to researcher Kelly Reynolds, Ph.D., associate professor, “Restrooms tend to get disinfected often.” On the other hand, playground equipment is hardly ever cleaned.
Germs that cause illness, such as those that are present in the mucus that children wipe from their noses, can live for days after being shed. Sandboxes are also unhygienic because animals like squirrels and birds often leave behind their waste, which can lead to gastrointestinal problems and skin infections in young children.
Staying safe at the playground.
Are you tempted to use a disinfecting wipe to clean the ladders and the handles? Not worth your time. Eliminating all of the germs is an almost inconceivably difficult task. Instead, you should instruct your child not to touch her mouth, nose, or eyes while she is at the playground, and you should have her clean her hands with a hand gel that contains alcohol before you leave the park. Also, if you have a sandbox in the backyard, make sure that it is covered when it is not being used.
2. Ball Pits
Children’s gymnasiums and fast-food restaurants often have enclosed play areas containing plastic balls. These play areas are among the dirtiest places you should let your child roam free. Researchers from the University of North Georgia discovered 31 different species of bacteria in the ball pits at six different physical therapy clinics. According to Dr. Reynolds, children wearing diapers that leak play in these areas, and the pits are rarely cleaned. The feces of a child may contain salmonella, rotavirus, and E. coli, all of which are pathogens that can cause severe bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. The hands and feet of young children are another potential sources of contamination for the balls.
Staying safe at ball pits
According to Adam Ratner, M.D., director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone, ball pits pose a relatively low risk of injury to children, despite the fact that they may appear to have a high risk factor. Dr. Ratner warns that it is possible for your child to come into contact with these bacteria no matter where they go. Although some of them, like Streptococcus oralis and Staphylococcus hominis, may give off a spooky vibe, you won’t just find them scuttling around in ball pits; you’ll also find them living on the skin and tongue of virtually every child.
It is not likely that your child will get sick from playing in a germy ball pit unless they have skin lesions or a weakened immune system. This is the case even if other children in the ball pit are sick. However, keep in mind that the standards for cleaning and schedules vary significantly from one pit to the next. Inquire as to the frequency of the balls’ sterilization. It is in your best interest to exit the building if the attendant does not know (or if you detect an unpleasant odor). As always, precautions based on common sense should be taken: You should ensure that your child has received all necessary vaccinations and that they wash their hands thoroughly before and after entering the water.
3. Petting Zoos
In recent years, major E. coli outbreaks have been linked to petting zoos as a possible source. It’s not difficult to understand why this is the case: farm animals aren’t picky about where they lie down, and traces of feces from an animal’s fur or saliva could easily get onto your child’s hands—and (gross!) into their mouths.
Staying safe at petting zoos.
A child must be at least three years old to visit a petting zoo (or, if you do, let them look but not touch). According to Andrew Nowalk, MD, Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics, “It doesn’t matter how many times you tell a young child not to do it; she is likely to put her fingers in her mouth at some point.” Even children who are older than five years old need to be reminded not to touch their mouths after petting an animal. After they are finished, you should make sure to use a hand gel that contains alcohol.
4. Water fountains.
A recent study conducted at elementary schools by NSF International, a nonprofit health and safety organization with its headquarters in Ann Arbor, Michigan, found that a typical drinking fountain harbors a greater number of pathogenic germs than a public toilet seat. Children have a habit of touching the water spigot with their mouths or fingers, which causes the subsequent person to drink from it to be exposed to germs. Viruses that cause the common cold and influenza can live on the metal for up to five hours.
Staying safe at water fountains.
Teach your child to keep their lips (and fingers) away from the spigot and to wait a few seconds before taking a sip of water. This will prevent them from scalding themselves. Robert Donofrio, who directs the microbiology lab at NSF International, says that this helps wash away harmful organisms. “That helps wash away harmful organisms.” You could also bring a separate water bottle with you, but make sure that the person in question is the only one who uses it.
5. Shopping Cart Handles
Both employees and customers in a supermarket constantly touch the handles of the shopping carts, which can spread germs. Your child runs the risk of ingesting harmful bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, and campylobacter if the blood from raw meat gets on the handle of the cutting board.
Staying safe while shopping for groceries.
Before you put your child in the cart, wipe the handle with an antiseptic wipe to ensure it is clean. If you buy a shopping cart cover, you should keep in mind that these can also carry germs (which survive longer in fabric than on a plastic handle), so you should wash them on a regular basis. If you do buy a shopping cart cover, you should keep this information in mind.
6. Children’s Museums
Because dozens of other children’s hands have used them before your child presses them to activate electronic exhibits, the buttons that your child presses are major bug conductors. And the buttons on vending machines and elevators have the same level of bacteria.
Staying safe at children’s museums.
When visiting a children’s museum, it is important to remind your child not to touch their eyes, nose, or mouth. You don’t have to ruin their fun by preventing them from engaging with the interactive exhibits, but after they’re done, make sure they wash their hands or use a hand cleanser.
7. Available in public places are high chairs.
Even though a restaurant caters to families with young children, that does not mean that it is free of germs. There is a good chance that the seat you put your young child in hasn’t been sanitized since the last time another child sat in it. It’s possible that the high chair in your home isn’t very clean either: It’s common for bacteria to thrive in nooks and crannies that are out of reach.
Staying safe while dining out.
Before placing your child in the high chair at a restaurant, you should either bring a disposable high-chair cover with you or use a disinfecting wipe to clean the seat. After each meal, use a paper towel and some disinfectant spray to wipe down the high chair that your child eats in at home (the sponge you use to clean dishes or wipe counters could contain harmful germs). You should also think about purchasing a model that is made with antimicrobial plastic because this will make some of the killing of germs for you.
8. The Keyboards of Computers
As per the study conducted by the National Science Foundation (NSF), there are more germs on the keyboards of school computers than there are on doorknobs. This is because door handles are cleaned daily, whereas keyboards are cleaned infrequently, if at all.
Staying safe while using computers.
In order to reduce the odds that your child will transfer germs to their keyboard or mouse, teach them to sneeze into the crook of their arm and to blow their nose into a tissue when they are using a computer. In the comfort of their home, you should instruct them to wash their hands before and after using the computer. Once a week, as well as after being used by someone who has a cold, use a disinfectant cloth to wipe down the computer keyboard.
9. Your Pediatrician’s Office Reception Area
Do not let the presence of an antiseptic odor fool you. The waiting room at the pediatrician’s office is a veritable petri dish due to the high number of sick children who are patients there, particularly during cold and flu season. Your child is at risk of contracting an infectious disease if the busy doctor who treats them forgets to wash their hands after treating each patient and then moves on to the next.
How to Avoid Accidents While Visiting the Doctor
In order to reduce the risk of your child spreading an illness to other children, you should instruct them to wash their hands before going to the doctor. If it’s just a checkup, you should inquire about the availability of a separate waiting area for healthy children (where the germ load is probably a lot lower). Bring your own books and toys with you so your children aren’t enticed to play with the ones provided for them.
Dr. Nowalk advises, “The last thing you want is for your healthy child to contract an illness while they are here at the doctor’s office.” It is also acceptable to ask the nurse and the doctor whether they have washed their hands before touching your child. This should be done before they touch your child. Dr. Nowalk describes it as “smart” rather than “rude.”