December saw an outbreak of Norovirus, or winter vomiting bug almost approaching epidemic proportions, and unfortunately it continues on its rounds.
Norovirus is a highly contagious stomach bug, it spreads easily because exposure to as few as 10 virus particles can inubate infection, and also because the virus can survive on open surfaces for a long time.
As with any contagious virus, the key to avoiding it is to practice good hygiene:-
- Wash hands before handling food, before eating, after touching animals and after going to the toilet
- Take care if you are treating sick people around you, wash hands after being with them
- Use an antibacterial handwash
- Use a tissue to contain coughs and sneezes, then dispose of the tissue and wash your hands again
- Isolate sufferers until 48 hours after recovery
- If you catch the virus, remember that you remain contagious for a further 48 hours after you recover, don't prepare food on that time, and be cautious interacting with others
Hospitals and surgeries are keen to prevent contagion amongst the most vulnerable so try to avoid visiting them, telephone for advice if required.
Sadly there's no treatment for Norovirus and you have to let the bug run its course. Symptoms vary but can include severe vomiting and diarrhoea. The biggest danger comes from dehydration so try to keep hydrated even in the event of vomiting. Young children (and the elderly) are particularly vulnerable to dehydration and may require hospital treatment, but check with your hospital first as many have shut their doors to Norovirus admissions on health grounds.
Hopefully we all practice the hygiene measures outlined here routinely, this won't prevent catching Norovirus but it will help to contain its spread.
Teaching your toddler some basic rituals when it comes to everyday livinhg is a great and easy way to introduce some good (and advisable!) habits into their lives. The more they get used to following these simple rules, the easier it will be to keep them safe and actually introduce them to some good practice.
- Hands Please - Make sure you get into the habit of washing hands in certain situations: before eating, after playing outside, after going to the toilet and after stroking pets. Make it more fun by having nice smelly soap that the children can reach and use on their own if they are old enough. Make sure there's a step to reach the tap and a nice fresh towel to wipe clean.
- Going To The Toilet - Teach the little ones how to wipe their bottoms as soon as they start going to the toilet. If they practice how to do it properly on their own from the start they will get into the habit and keep doing it when they go to the toilet alone. Make sure you teach them how to flush and close the toilet lip safely. Use moist wipes to ensure they are fresh.
- Teeth - Make sure you get your child to wash their teeth twice a day and do yours at the same time too to show them that you do it as well. Supervise and do the washing, but also let them try too and have a brush about. Explain that good brushing means healthy teeth and no uncomfortable cavities!
- Food Fun - Try and keep to a healthy diet. Sweet things are allowed, of course, but keep them to a minimum and after having eaten the healthy foods. Create a food chart to ensure you eat five fresh fruits or vegetables each day. Encourage the children to pick which fruit to have at the supermarket. Eat the fruit and vegetables in different ways: cooked in stews, cooked an their own, raw, chopped into slices or sticks. Make sure you choose colourful vegetables with your meals and even try presenting in different ways. Could broccoli and carrot sticks be a forest? Explain that sweet things are fine in moderation but that is the vitamins, minerals, dairy products, carbohydrates and all good foods that help us grow, give us energy and have fun. And, of course, drink lots of water too!
- Keep the Family Moving - Explain that keeping active is a fabulous way to have fun, keep healthy and keep happy! Do walks or bike rides together, or go for swimming sessions as a family. Walk to school or nursery when you can and walk to the local shops too. Run about in local parks or open spaces or head to soft play centres to climb and run and swing about. Get a bike for your little one as early as you can and encourage them to ride. Dance about and sing songs too and be as active as you can.
- Sleep Time - Getting enough sleep is vital for you and your child so make sure you get into the habit of good and long nights sleep from an early age. Of course there are often troubles with sleeping, but do you best to get them to sleep alone and go back to sleep when they wake in the night. Stick to regular bed times, make sure they are warm enough (though, not too hot!), that they have teddies/comforters nearby, that the room is dark but not too dark to make it alarming if they wake.
- Be Safe - Teach them some basic safety requirements and they will be less likely to have accidents throughout their childhood. Show them how to climb stairs and come down safely. Show them how to get into chairs and get out again. And practise over and again to make sure they are confident and safe.
- Sunny Days - Always apply suncream as a matter of course and keep it handy throughout the day should you need to re-apply. Make it a part of your routine when leaving the house so it becomes normal to apply the cream with minimum fuss.
We must all take personal hygiene seriously in order to prevent spreading illness and to maintain good health; here are some fascinating facts for you to consider...
- The human body has no fewer than 1,000 different species of bacteria! There are more germs on our bodies than people in the United Kingdom... although a few less after washing hands!
- 90% of germs on hands are found under the nails
- It is true to say that expose to some germs DOES help build up our immune systems and in the long run lead healthier lives
- 80% of illnesses are spread through touch
- When you shake hands you spread more germs than kissing!
- Under three's will be ill around eight times a year on average
- You cannot stop a sneeze as it's an automatic response
- You can fit around 1,000 germs on the head of a pin
- Hands that have been dried spread less germs than those that stay wet
- The longest sneezing fit went on for nearly 1,000 days before she eventually stopped
- Most people think sneezing into their hands is adequate rather than using a tissue
- An average sneeze travels at around 80 miles per hour! The fastest ever recorded was over 100 miles per hour!
- In Omaha, Nebraska it is illegal to sneeze in church!
It's good to get children (and adults!) in the habit of washing hands frequently, because good hand hygiene is a way of stopping or at least reducing the chance of spreading diseases, from the simple cold and cough to more dangerous diseases such as meningitis and worms!
Does this mean children shouldn't get dirty?
Not at all! Children learn so much from getting mucky in the garden and playing outside. All you have to do is to ensure that they clean up properly afterwards. Then they get to enjoy and explore their world and lead a healthy life too!
We must instil in them that it is okay to get grubby to play outside to climb ladders and trees and stroke tame animals if they wish. However, we must make sure they understand why they must clean up afterwards to keep healthy.
When should we tell children to clean their hands?
Hands should be washed AFTER:
- going to the toilet
- touching or stroking animals
- visiting farms or places where animals are kept
- playing on outdoor equipment especially at a public park
- touching or playing with mud or any garden soil
- ...and, of course, whenever they look dirty!
Hands should be washed BEFORE:
- eating a meal or snack
- helping to cook a meal or touch any type of food
- visiting someone who is ill or in hospital care
Eyes, nose and mouth
It is also important to teach children to respect their eyes, nose and mouth as a place where germs can get into their bodies. Don't frighten them, but try to make them aware that germs can get in and make them unwell if they are not careful about where they touch.
You are more likely to contract food poisoning in your own home than from a restaurant, that's slightly surprising, but it's true because there are so many ways that bacteria can contaminate food that we are about to eat. It's vital to store food properly. Here are some pointers and some reasons why!
- Raw meat should be stored separately to food that's ready to eat (cheese, salad, fruit). You don't need a separate fridge, but you do need to keep them apart. Keep raw met at the bottom of the fridge.
- Make sure all foods are covered.
- If you are defrosting raw food, make sure none of the water or defrosted liquid gets onto any of the other foods. Why? Because there are bacteria on raw foods that could contaminate foods you are about to eat.
- Always use a clean copping board and knife when cutting raw food and cooked food. Why? Bacteria can even spread from the knife or chopping board onto other foods.
- Wash all fruit and vegetables before you eat them. Why? Because they may have harmful bacteria on them and if you don't wash them you'll eat them too!
What's the difference between 'sell by', 'use by' and 'best before' dates?
Sell by - this is the date by which the shop need to sell the goods. There may well be a few days after this date that the food will be fine to eat.
Use by - this is the date by which the food must have been consumed - or throw it away! If you were a restaurant and you served food after the "use by" date it would be against the law.
Best before - this is all about quality. The food would be fine to eat after the sell by date, but it will be past its best.
Other things to remember:
- Keep pets away from food preparation areas.
- Keep equipment in good condition and replace splitting wooden spoons, cracked chopping boards etc.
- Steralise surfaces and equipment periodically.
- Keep you kitchen clean and sweep the floor often to prevent pests.
- Keep raw food covered in the fridge and when getting ready to cook.
Food hygiene is especially important if you have children in your home, both to practice and to teach them about so that they grow up understanding how to prepare food safely.
Research has found that people are more likely to wash their hands after going to the toilet, if they think that someone else is watching them - if no one is looking, they'll not bother! The research was carried out by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. They set up sensors in toilets and were able to study the behaviour of 250,000 people. They found that less than one third of men washed with hands with soap but nearly two thirds of women did.
Why bother washing your hands? As you go through the day touching surfaces and objects, germs accumulate on your hands. You can infect yourself by touching your own eyes, nose or mouth. Washing your hands with soap can minimise the spread of bacteria.
When to wash your hands:
- Before preparing food.
- Before eating.
- Before and after treating wounds or giving medicine. A
- After using the toilet.
- After changing a baby's diaper/nappy.
- After touching animals.
- After emptying the rubbish or touching something that could be contaminated like muddy shoes.
- PLUS, wash them whenever they look dirty!
Here are the steps required to give them a thorough wash and reduce risk of infection from bacteria:-
- Wet hands with running water.
- Apply anti-bacterial liquid soap.
- Lather and rub hands for 15 seconds.
- Rinse and dry well.
Encourage little ones to wash frequently too. Show them what to do and lead by example by always washing your hands too! It will become second nature and you could be doing them a huge favour when it comes to avoiding contagious illnesses!
Hand washing is an important hygiene step both for your children, but also for you as a responsible parent. From the moment you have your baby, you must take extra care to ensure that you don't pass on infections unnecessarily, or indeed let anyone else pass on germs. There are lots of germs that can be passed from touch including common cold, infectious diarrhea and flu, including the strains of swine flu circulating the world at the moment.
Don't be embarrassed if you want friends and family to wash their hands before handling your baby - it may seem trivial but there's nothing silly about such a request, and no one could consider it rude if they really think through the consequences. If you are embarrassed about asking, just say that your health visitor or paediatrician insists on this level of hygiene.
Always wash your hands after changing your baby, and as children grow older and go to the toilet themselves, make sure that they always wash their hands. Lead by example and make sure that you always wash your own hands after going to the toilet, and your children will follow suit. Make sure that your children can reach the sink - buy them a plastic step so that they can reach the bowl and the taps, and buy them kids' soap in a squeezy dispenser - this will make hand washing more fun and encourage them in the pursuit of cleanliness!