How can we control germs in daycares?

Toys and germs.ZoomZoom
© Julien Guimond

Article written by Julie Potvin-Barakatt and published in Le Courrier Laval, October 10, 2009.

Sitting in the middle of the playroom, Leah, snot-nosed, is drooling profusely on a red ball, which she is clutching clumsily in her tiny hands. Seeing this, Thomas, jealous of her tasty snack, crawls five steps, snatches the ball away from Leah, and brings it greedily to his own mouth. In a very short time, infectious diseases can contaminate all the occupants of a daycare.

To prevent the propagation of infectious diseases throughout the entire daycare, should the sick child be temporarily removed from the environment? "Yes," without hesitation, has long been the answer to this question. Well, you may be surprised to learn that doctors’ recommendations on this subject have been changing in recent years.

Why? Our understanding of germs reveals that many diseases are contagious before the infected child presents any symptoms. Therefore, when the child is removed from the daycare, the damage has already been done. Furthermore, requiring children to be absent from daycare for benign infections can be costly for a family that must find other childcare arrangements. This approach, guilt-ridden as it is for the parents, does nothing to solve the problem.

Health professionals have chosen to rely on prevention through education. It is of paramount importance to educate and offer continuous training to daycare personnel on ways to control and eliminate transmission of germs. Several publications and tools have been produced by the Committee for the prevention of infections in the Centres de la petite enfance du Québec, notably, posters on hand washing, respiratory hygiene, and diaper changing, as well as the quarterly information bulletin Bye-bye les microbes. This hygiene program has had very positive repercussions in Quebec, where two thirds of diarrheal infections and half of respiratory infections have been eliminated. Good news!

It is, however, inevitable that children attending daycare full-time run a risk of contracting infections up to three times higher than that of children of the same age who remain at home. There is, however, some consolation in knowing that this difference seems to reverse when the child goes to school, since attending a daycare appears to have a “protective” effect whereby children acquire immunity against certain infections.