Hygiene and illness

Due to germs (bacteria, viruses and fungi) being invisible to the naked eye, it is hard for early years and primary age children to build links between microorganisms, poor hygiene practices and disease.

Microorganisms are microscopic organisms that can take the form of a bacteria, virus or fungi, they are found everywhere and can be useful in cheese, bread, insulin and vaccine production. However, it is the pathogenic bacteria (human solid waste faecal coliforms such as Escherichia coli ) that cause stomach aches, and viruses (Rhinoviruses and Influenza) that cause coughs and colds, should be the focus of early years children’s learning. Hence children need to be taught preventative measures, such as hand washing and covering their mouths and nose when they cough and sneeze.

Prevention of disease?

Hand washing has been shown to be the most effective measure in infection control to prevent cross contamination of disease in a number of research studies (Hugonnet & Pitte, 2000). With a 3rd of infections being preventable with good hand hygiene (Judah et al. 2009), however, young children often do not have the appropriate etiquette and knowledge in order to readily implement hand washing routines, therefore educational resources and interventions are often required in order for them to do so (Randle et al. 2013)

It has been shown that children learning why and how to wash their hands is perceived as important by teachers and knowledge about the spread of germs was important to pupils when implementing hygiene practices in a randomised controlled study in primary schools on factors influencing hand washing (Chittleborough et al. 2012).

Extracted and adapted from:  Laird, K. and Younie, S. (2017) Germs: Health Education/Science for Early Years MESHGuide. De Montfort University, UK http://www.meshguides.org/category/meshguides-published/science/early-years-3/

Zayas G, Chiang MC, Wong E, et al. Effectiveness of cough etiquette maneuvers in disrupting the chain of transmission of infectious respiratory diseases. BMC Public Health. 2013;13:811. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-811.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3846148/