Whenever there are children together, there is a chance of spreading infections. This is especially true among infants and toddlers who are likely to use their hands to wipe their noses or rub their eyes, and then handle toys or touch other children. These children then touch their noses and rub their eyes, so the virus goes from the nose or the eyes of one child by way of hands or toys to the next child, who then rubs their own nose or eyes. Children also tend to get sick a lot in the first several years of life as their bodies are building immunity to infections.
In many childcare facilities, the staff simply can’t take care for a sick child due to space or staff limitations, although in others, the child can be kept comfortable and allowed to rest as needed in a separate area of the room where they have already exposed the other children. When waiting to be picked up, an ill child who is being excluded should be in a location where no contact occurs with those who have not already been exposed to their infection.
It is often best for the child not to be moved to another space to prevent their illness from spreading throughout the play centre facility and maintain good supervision of the child. In some programs, a staff member who knows the child well and who is trained to care for ill children may care for the child to a space set aside for such care and where others will not be exposed. If the child requires minimal care for a condition that doesn’t require exclusion, there may be a place for the child to lie down, while remaining within sight of a staff member when the child needs to rest.
In some communities, special sick child care centres have been established for children with mild illnesses who can’t participate or need more care than the staff can provide in the child’s usual care setting.
Even with all these prevention measures, it is likely that some infections will be spread in the child care centre. For many of these infections, a child is contagious a day or more before they develop symptoms. So, make sure to wash the child’s hand frequently. You never know when a child is passing a virus or bacteria. Sometimes a child will become sick while at childcare and need to go home, and parents must have a plan so someone can pick them up.
What is Infection Control?
Infection control is concerned with the hygiene practices and the precautions that all practitioners take to prevent the spread of germs and the actions taken to control the spread of infection. The practices for infection control and prevention are important in maintaining a safe environment for everyone by reducing the risk of the potential spread of disease.
Infection control starts with standard precautions, which are the methods recommended by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for preventing the transmission of infections.
Ensuring Children Remain Clean and Healthy
Babies and young children have a relatively low state of immunity, as they have not previously been exposed to many specific germs. When they start attending childcare and play centre facilities, they are exposed to an increased number of childhood infections and illnesses. It is not unusual for children to attend more than one setting or to have older siblings who attend school. Therefore, the number of germs they come into contact with increases and infections are more easily spread.
Any shared environment increases the risk. However, in a childcare or play centre facility, children are near each other for much of the time. They share toys and resources that can easily be contaminated with saliva, urine, or faeces, and are of course, less likely to understand the importance of good hygiene practices such as washing hands.
Therefore, all childcare and play centre facility practitioners have an important role to play in preventing the spread of infection. Providers must have a procedure for responding to children who are ill or infectious and take necessary steps to prevent the spread of infections and take appropriate action if children are ill.
So, how can you reduce your child’s chance of getting sick? Here are four key areas to be aware of to help reduce the spread of germs and infections in childcare and play centre facilities.
1. Infection Prevention
Infection prevention is everybody’s business, including childcare staff, children, and families. An important question to ask is, “are the staff and children healthy enough to come to the centre?”
- For staff members, this means being up to date on immunisations including Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis), MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella), and seasonal flue.
- For children and parents, the centre should have criteria for when someone might be contagious and shouldn’t be at the childcare. These might include rashes with fever, strep throat, and infectious diarrhoea. Ask the care providers what criteria they use.
As a parent, you should know when your child should stay at home too. If your childcare or play centre facility accepts potentially contagious children, find out how those children and assigned staff are physically separated from others.
2. Hand Hygiene
Keeping your hands clean is the number one way to prevent the spread of infection. Clean your hands after using the bathroom, after sneezing, blowing your nose, or coughing; before eating; when visiting someone who is sick; or whenever your hands are dirty.
- Staff should be observed performing hand hygiene before and after diapering, assisting with toileting, before food preparation, after touching body fluids (including runny noses), and countless more times throughout the day. Children, too, should be washing their hands, especially after eating, after using the bathroom, and after playing outdoors.
- Hands should be rinsed with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds. Alcohol hand sanitisers are a convenient and effective product for hand hygiene for children older than 24 months of age.
- Take a look around. Are there enough sinks or sanitisers throughout the centre and close to the diaper changing areas? Are there separate sinks for food preparation and toileting? Are hand hygiene posters present at the facility? If not, speak up and request more handwashing stations and posted information about proper hand hygiene.
3. Cleaning and Disinfection
It is important to clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces on a regular basis. There should be a schedule for when each item is cleaned with an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered disinfectant or a bleach solution (according to the manufacturer’s recommendations). Certain items need specific attention. For example:
- Diaper changing areas should have a new paper liner for each diaper change and then be wiped with a disinfectant.
- Toys must have washable surfaces. Items that can’t be cleaned (e.g., stuffed animals) should be dedicated to one child.
- Bottles, caps, and nipples must be disposable or sanitised between uses (dishwasher or boiled for one minute).
- Cribs and sleeping mats need a cover sheet and must be regularly disinfected.
4. Food Safety
Proper handling and preparation of food are important to prevent and avoid foodborne illnesses (food poisoning). A significant part of a child’s day involves eating.
- Food and beverages should not be prepared in the same areas as the bathroom, diapering area or playrooms.
- Reusable utensils and plates must be sanitised between uses.
- Food, including breast milk, should be stored at safe temperatures.
- Leftover food should be well labelled and stored accordingly.
To ensure that you can safely prevent and reduce the spread of infections in childcare and play centre facilities, here are some other steps that you can take.
· Cover Existing Wounds or Skin Lesions
Activities such as preparing and serving food, play dough, clay, gloop, sand or water play should be avoided by staff and children if they have open wounds on their hands. Such activities may particularly aggravate lesions by skin conditions such as eczema.
· Use Appropriate Single-Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
This includes aprons and gloves for nappy changing, cleaning up vomit or blood or any activity that involves the risk of contamination. PPE, when used appropriately, protects staff from germs and splashing, but also protects children from contamination from staff clothing. PPE is often single-use, and boxes of single-use gloves or aprons are usually marked.
· Have a Clear Procedure for Cleaning Toys, Equipment and the Environment
A regular cleaning schedule is essential in any childcare or play centre facility to prevent the spread of infection. Germs can’t thrive on clean, dry surfaces. Therefore, the cleaning schedule should cover the equipment and resources in each area, how often it is cleaned and by which method. Staff must always be prepared to clean up as they go along, using disposable paper towels for spillages of blood and/or bodily fluids, wearing gloves and plastic aprons.
The frequency of these cleans should be increased during infection outbreaks. In some cases, it may be necessary to close a setting while a deep clean takes place, which involves cleaning carpets, curtains, and all surfaces, including walls.
· Understand and Follow Guidance for Managing Illness and Infections
Despite the best efforts of staff to prevent the spread of infection, some children and staff will inevitably become sick because many infections are contagious before any obvious symptoms appear. Childcare and play centre facilities are not equipped to manage ‘sick’ children. As a general principle, children with an infection should be kept at home while they have symptoms or are feeling unwell. The same rule applies to staff as well.
You must take all the precautions and understand the threat of spreading viruses and infectious diseases in childcare and play centre facilities. Make sure all children are provided with an environment that is safe and conducive for them. That is why the duty of the staff at hand must ensure that there is an effective infection control protocol that is being followed on the premises.
Children are more at risk to infectious diseases and viruses because their immune system hasn’t fully developed, and it is, therefore, the responsibility of the child care centre to ensure that no child goes homesick. They should actively promote good personal hygiene among staff and other children and ensure that the environment is clean and free from all germs.
To ensure that children have a safe and germ-free environment, childcare and play centre facilities should consider using electrostatic spraying in their settings. That will ensure that no germs or infectious diseases are spread and will drastically reduce the spread of infections as well.
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