Study Links Improved Health to Day-Care Center Cleaning and Disinfection

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Children in day-care centers are

less likely to get sick and need antibiotics when their center routinely

cleans and disinfects, according to a new study released today at the Child

Welfare League of America's national conference in Washington, D.C. The study

supports what public health researchers -- and generations of mothers -- have

believed for decades: disinfecting helps protect against the spread of germs

among children.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Arizona,

monitored the health of more than 1,000 children over a 10-week period. Half

of the participating centers were asked to follow a recommended

cleaning-and-disinfecting routine. The other half continued to follow their

normal cleaning procedure.

The differences were dramatic, researchers said. In the centers that

followed the study's disinfecting protocol, children were 37 percent less

likely to experience diarrheal illness; 36 percent less likely to receive

prescriptions for antibiotics; 17 percent less likely to report ear aches; and

10 percent less likely to come down with an upper respiratory illness, such as

the cold or flu.

"This study shows how simple steps -- from routinely washing hands to

disinfecting commonly touched surfaces -- can help to interrupt the cycle of

germ transmission," said Charles Gerba, Ph.D, professor of environmental

microbiology at University of Arizona and one of the authors of Impact of a

Hygiene Intervention on Illness in Childcare Centers. "This cycle is common in

day-care and other group settings where contagious diseases are spread from

surfaces to hands and mouth."

"This is one situation when sharing isn't such a good thing," said

Bruce Hershfield, director of child care and development at the Child Welfare

League of America. "This study provides important data for both public-health

agencies and parents -- as they cope with sick days for kids, doctors' visits

and antibiotic prescriptions."

The study examined the health of children, ranging in age from one month

to 6 years old, in 12 day-care centers. Study participants were given

cleaning products supplied by The Clorox Company -- including Ultra Clorox

Regular Bleach, Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, Clorox Disinfecting Spray, Clorox

Toilet Bowl Cleaner and Clorox Clean-Up Cleaner with Bleach -- and a simple

guide that recommended how many times specific areas in the day-care center

should be cleaned and disinfected daily or weekly.

Workers in the control centers continued to clean as usual, which

typically meant less regular daily cleaning or spot cleaning of germ transfer

points like door handles or light switches, Gerba said.

Compared to children in the control group, researchers also found children

in the intervention group were:

-- 20 percent less likely to report hay fever/allergy symptoms;

-- 19 percent less likely to experience fever; and

-- 19 percent less likely to have a medical visit.

Numerous public health campaigns in recent years aimed at doctors and

parents have focused on the need to reduce the rising use of antibiotics.

Widespread unnecessary use of antibiotics, particularly among children, has

led to an increase in hard-to-treat, drug-resistant bacteria worldwide,

according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Public health

experts have called for greater "environmental control" over the cycle of

disease to reduce contagion and limit the prescription of antibiotics.

"When the World Health Organization sees an improvement of five percent,

it considers an intervention successful," said Gerba. "But with just a simple

cleaning and disinfecting program -- and no other change in behavior -- we saw

improvements that ranged from 10 percent to 37 percent -- clearly important

for public health in this country."

The Archives of Internal Medicine reports that parents miss 126 million

workdays each year to care for sick children. When added to the workdays

missed by employees suffering from a cold, the total economic impact of

cold-related work loss exceeds $20 billion annually.

"When you become a parent, you find yourself becoming an expert on

contagious disease," Gerba said. "You can't stop children from getting sick,

but there are simple things you can do -- at home, at work or at a day-care

center -- to keep disease from spreading."

Source: University of Arizona

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