Stopping the Spread: 5 Top Places Germs Lurk in Schools

Kids using a water fountain at a school.

Schools are a hotbed of germs. Jason Losee, DO, UnityPoint Health, says that’s because there are so many people jammed into a relatively small space. He identifies five of the most germ-filled places in your child’s school and explains why preventing the spread of germs and handwashing go hand-in-hand. 

Where Do School Germs Hide?

You might think bathrooms are the places where most school germs lurk. But, Dr. Losee says that isn’t the case.

“We have all seen scary bathrooms,” Dr. Losee says. “However, studies have shown that most school bathrooms likely don’t deserve the bad rap they get. Toilets and other bathroom surfaces are typically cleaned on a regular basis. They are also smooth rather than porous (like wood or concrete), which limits the ability for germs to take hold on the surface.”

While toilet seats aren’t usually the big players in transmitting germs, Dr. Losee gives us five other places where you will likely find a ton of germs.

  • Drinking fountains
  • Lunchroom keypads
  • Classroom books
  • Gym equipment
  • Bus seats (especially the back of the seat in front of a child)

“The places kids and parents should be most worried about are those that almost everyone touches but are not cleaned as often.”

How Do Germs Spread?

Now that we know where germs are hiding, you’re probably wondering how germs spread. Germs can include a whole host of things, including viruses and bacteria. Dr. Losee says many germs are floating around in the air and can be breathed in. This typically happens when someone coughs or sneezes, and germs are airborne within tiny droplets of water.

“These droplets settle to the ground or other surfaces relatively quickly. That means these germs can live for long periods of time on various surfaces, just waiting for us to pick them up,” Dr. Losee says.

Germs and Handwashing

Young school-aged children often haven’t yet developed the hygiene habits to prevent the spread of germs. But, Dr. Losee says it’s important to begin teaching proper handwashing for kids. He offers these three handwashing facts.

  • Use regular soap and warm water. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says antibacterial soap is no more effective than regular soap and warm water.
  • Opt for paper towels. Paper towel are ideal from a germ standpoint because after drying your hands you can use the paper towel to open the bathroom door before throwing it away. Hand dryers are more environmentally friendly, but then you have to open the bathroom door after a previous bathroom user may or may not have washed his/her hands. Bringing your own towel isn’t a great option either, since you’d have to find a place to store it, and germs can build up on a moist cloth.
  • Hand sanitizer is a good alternative. If a sink isn’t available for washing, hand sanitizer works. There are a few bacteria that aren’t killed by alcohol-based hand sanitizer (C-diff, tetanus and botulism), but those bacteria are also not commonly found in schools.

“Sending your child to school with his/her own hand sanitizer is a great option, but make sure you teach them the appropriate way to use it, including telling them to rub their hands together for 20-30 seconds,” Dr. Losee says.

When Should My Child Wash His/Her Hands?

Dr. Losee says try to instill in children the key times to get rid of germs by handwashing. It’s also a great idea to enforce these at home, too.

  • After using the bathroom
  • Before eating
  • After eating
  • After using shared materials (like books, gym equipment, computers, tablets, etc.)
  • After coughing or sneezing on their hands

Is your child sick? UnityPoint Health Virtual Care can help!


Advice for Parents

“We are all exposed to germs, with everything we touch and even every breath we breathe. We can never make the chance of getting sick from these germs zero. We can, however, decrease our exposure to germs and the germs we expose others to,” Dr. Losee says.

One thing he suggests is providing children with their own bottle of water to limit exposure to school water fountain germs. Also, keep back packs clean of things that could contain germs, like old lunch containers and gym clothes. It’s also a good idea to constantly remind kids not to wipe their nose on their hand or arm and to cough into their elbow. Most of all, impress upon children the importance of cleaning their hands. As the father of four, Dr. Losee shares a suggestion.

“Try to use fun games, songs or stories to teach kids about germs and handwashing. As a father of four boys ages two through 11, my experience is that scolding and shaking my finger doesn’t work,” Dr. Losee says.


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