Hygiene and infection control in childcare: Three major concerns.

 The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted parent's concerns over hygiene and infection control in childcare centres. Sending your children to care of others is a huge step for parents. Professional well managed cleaning and sanitation prevents childcare being a hotbed for infection spreading. Three areas of best practice and critical control are hand hygiene, sandpits and toys, and nappy change areas. No-one wants unwanted microorganisms coming home with the kids and spreading though the whole family. 

Soap is not always without hazard even though soap and water handwashing is fundamental to hygiene and infection control in childcare. A recent outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease in Canberra was traced back to the soap dispenser. The refillable dispenser was not cleaned out and a large bacteria sludge grew in the base of the container and was the source of the virus spread. More than half of the children  needed to be kept home for days. 

The National Health and Medical Research Council's (NH&MRC) guide “Staying healthy: Preventing infectious diseases in early childhood education and care services” recognizes that hand sanitisers are useful aids to hygiene and infection control in childcare centres. Until recently alcohol sanitisers were the only option available. Calls to poisons information centres about ingestion of alcohol hand sanitizers has more than doubled during the COVID crisis compared with the previous year. Splashes into eyes and slip hazards from alcohol gel getting onto floors are additional hazards that mean alcohol hand sanitizer use in childcare centres requires close supervision. In many cases, centres have stopped using sanitisers altogether.

Sandpits, Toys and germs

Learning to share is one of the principal benefits of sending children to childcare. Unfortunately, it can be more than toys that are shared. The cleaning regime of surfaces and toys is a concern regarding hygiene and infection control in childcare. Parents want to know that adequate cleaning and sanitation occurs and many worry about how thorough that cleaning can be in a time-poor environment. Toxic disinfectants and bleaches must be used with meticulous care and thoroughly rinsed off and dried.

One mother wondered what was happening to her child's clothes at daycare. The knees, forearms and elbows were fading to white. It turned out the disinfecting spray used on the plastic play tunnels was a bleach that ran down the sides and accumulating in small puddles at the bottom. Her child's clothes were soaking it up as she crawled through on hands and knees. Suddenly, the problem with the clothes were the least of this Mum's worries - how much bleach had got directly on her daughter's skin?

Nappy change areas

The best laid out plans can fall foul of the bladders and bowels of a group of children creating perhaps the most serious issue for  hygiene and infection control in childcare. The best intentions of staff in cleaning surfaces can literally be messed up by the urgent needs for a change of nappy. The NH&MRC's guidelines for infection control in early childcare calls for a thorough clean with detergent and warm water after every nappy change, including rinsing and drying. While staff in centres are dedicated and thorough, they are only human. Things can get busy and that is the reality and challenge.

What can I do to improve hygiene in Childcare?

Several innovations have recently been launched for the childcare sector that offer improved hygiene and infection control support which integrate with well structured cleaning practices using the right sanitising procedures and products such such as Brilliant science. Powered by nature. – Doxall. Nothing will ever replace the need for sound exclusion policies and good handwashing which are at the heart of best practice. Parents will always worry, but perhaps less so if your centre has an active professional development focus that includes staying abreast of innovation in hygiene and infection control in childcare. 

This article was written by Dr Tony Peacock BSc Hons, PhD.

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