By Amal Al-Sibai
With access to unlimited knowledge to be gained from the Internet, schools, clubs and libraries, children these days are active and smart as compared to previous generations; and they can do anything if they put their right mind to it.
You need not be an aging adult to be a scientific researcher now. And, to prove our point two young Saudi girls, Reem Mansour Al-Shehri and Afaf Al-Ghamdi in grade 10 took a serious research project in their hands - to find microorganisms living on children’s hands and increase awareness to prevent them by following a simple method - cleanliness and hygiene all the time, everywhere.
The budding scientists took samples from the surface of the skin of 90 children from various daycare centers in Al-Taif. They sent it to the laboratory to be analyzed and to their astonishment they discovered 23 types of microbes including bacteria, fungi, and yeast living on the children’s skin.
Researcher Reem Mansour Al-Shehri said, “Children between the ages of four and five are highly susceptible to catching germs from the environment around them, whether it is at home, playground or classroom. The skin is the first point of contact with external factors such as bacteria and fungi. We conducted this study to determine the presence of disease causing bacteria and to increase awareness on effective ways of preventing the spread of infections and contagious diseases among children in daycare centers. We took swipes from certain areas of the children’s skin, such as the forehead, nose, behind the ears, hand, armpit, and between the toes.”
Al-Sheri’s research partner, Afaf Al-Ghamdi, added, “We wanted to better understand the difference between the normal, healthy bacteria found on children in preschools, and the dangerous types of bacteria that cause illnesses.”
“The study was conducted with a high level of accuracy and this was the first study of its kind to be conducted in the daycare centers and preschools in Al-Taif. The study revealed that children’s skin provides a safe haven for around 23 different microorganisms,” said Dr. Khadija Al-Ali who supervised the research project.
The results of the study definitely does not mean that concerned mothers should go on a rampant cleaning mission and soak their children in disinfectants because the vast majority of the microbes found on the skin were natural flora. Bacteria are actually natural cohabitants of our bodies and some types of bacteria are not harmless as they also play an essential role in the overall health of our bodies.
Bacteria that are normally found in the human body and do not cause disease are called “normal flora.” In the intestines, the normal flora helps in the digestion of foods and in the production of vitamin K and some of the B vitamins. On the skin, healthy bacteria keeps pathogenic or bad bacteria at bay by taking up the space that would otherwise be occupied by pathogenic bacteria. Without normal flora, pathogenic bacteria would be free to invade the skin and possibly cause skin disorders. When pathogenic bacteria outnumber the healthy flora the body’s natural immune response is weakened.
Some serious bacterial skin infections include impetigo, leprosy, and some forms of acne. Ringworm is a skin infection caused by a fungus called tinea and is common among young children. It can spread easily from one child to another. A child can catch ringworm if she touches someone who has the infection, or simply comes in contact with items contaminated by fungus such as combs, clothing, or toys. You can also catch ringworm from pets that carry that fungus. Symptoms of ringworm include itchy, red, raised scaly patches that may blister and ooze.
The young researchers stressed on simple hygiene practices, which the children themselves should undertake. Parents, teachers, and care givers should ensure and monitor that hygiene levels are maintained at all times. Imparting knowledge to children on hygiene can be done in a fun and interactive way, such as through placards, stories, posters and songs as virtual study has more impact than verbal communication.
Following tips can help you ensure that your child’s day care center is disease free.
Frequent hand washing
Hand washing is not only important for the kids, but for the caregivers as well. Studies have shown that proper hand washing is probably the best way to limit spread of infection in daycare centers. Since the faucet handles of the sink can easily become contaminated, urge your child’s day care center to install automatic faucets which can assist in limited spread of disease.
Proper food storage
A mini-fridge should be made available in preschools to store foods that may spoil at room temperature such as fresh milk, yogurt snacks, and sandwiches with eggs or mayonnaise or cheese.
Make sure caregivers have been properly trained on hygiene practices for limiting the spread of infectious microbes. Simply understanding how diseases are spread and which ones to look out for can be a huge asset in infection prevention.
Keep sick child at home
Do not send your child to school if he/she has a contagious disease such as chicken pox or pinkeye, and also if she is vomiting, has diarrhea, or fever.