Although microbes are everywhere, most are harmless and many are helpful. Only 1% of microbes cause disease. The goal of an infection control program is to reduce the spread of infectious disease by reducing contact with pathogenic (disease-causing) germs or microbes. This curriculum provides guidelines on choosing safer chemical products to clean, sanitize, and disinfect, but it is very important to remember that some of the most effective ways of reducing the spread of infectious disease are found in our personal behaviours.
Disinfection should be called “temporary disinfection” because germs start to grow on disinfected and sanitized surfaces as soon as you touch them again. By washing your hands frequently, you reduce the number of germs that you pick up from and leave on the surfaces and people that you touch. You are also less likely to transfer those germs to your nose, eyes, and mouth, where they can get into your body and cause infection and illness.
According to the CDC, handwashing is the single most important thing you can do to reduce the spread of infectious disease in ECE as well as at home. If you focus on disinfecting but you don’t wash your hands and practice good personal hygiene, you will continue to spread disease. You need to take personal responsibility for protecting the young children in your care from infectious disease. Research has shown that caregiver hands in ECE harbour more germs than almost any other surface. Caregivers change diapers, assist children with toileting, wipe noses, hold hands, handle mouthed toys, and more. Frequent handwashing is the only way to stop the circle of infection caused by caregivers’ hands.
ECE providers need to be involved in efforts to improve handwashing in ECE. By making hand washing a responsibility of staff as a whole, hospitals have found improvements in hand washing rates. When ECE staff members implement handwashing, and other behavioural strategies described below for themselves as well as for the children in their care, infectious disease risk will be reduced. Handwashing also prevents the transfer of toxic chemicals from children’s hands to their mouths. Studies show that children swallow more chemicals from the skin on their hands than from mouthing toxic products directly. Hand sanitizers only kill bacteria. They do not remove toxic chemicals.
One of the most important lessons you can teach children in ECE is personal hygiene. This includes handwashing, blowing noses or sneezing into a tissue, and/or coughing or sneezing into our elbow. Making these behaviours automatic for a preschool child sets the stage for the child’s lifelong use of healthy habits. Preschool children are eager to master routines and skills. An ECE program is an ideal place to begin shaping children’s health habits, routines, and practices. For many children, it is the only place where they will learn these skills. Incorporating these habits into the curriculum and daily routine of the program helps to prevent the spread of infectious disease.