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
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