‘Good hand hygiene is profoundly important for children and adults alike. That being said, the most important piece of advice is that parents should keep children at home when they are sick’, cautions Tobias Ibfelt.
‘DCC staff must not hesitate to tell parents when a child starts to show signs of coming down with an illness.’
The doctor-cum-researcher examined 23 kindergartens in two Danish municipalities. He was looking for micro-organisms, that is, bacteria and traces of virus. It is very demanding to do research on viruses. They are extremely small and light, and they often hang suspended in the air for quite some time before attaching to a host. Bacteria are much easier to study. They are considerably larger and tend to land on surfaces fairly quickly.
Soft toys are the worst culprits
Ibfelt measured the bacterial and viral loads at several locations in the kindergartens. He found many bacteria, respiratory and gastrointestinal alike, on toilets and in the kitchens and playroom areas in all the DCCs. However, none of them were pathogens.
By way of contrast, the number of pathogenic viruses was far greater.
This was especially true of respiratory viruses that can lead to colds. Most of those were found on toys made of non-washable materials, e.g. teddy bears. Sofas, duvets and pillows contained numerous traces of virus.
Viruses were less prevalent on plastic toys or other toys with smooth surfaces. The exception was food-related toys, e.g. pretend pizza, which children often put in their mouths. Little virus was found on the tables and chairs in the kindergartens.
Cleaning once a month had no effect
In another study, Ibfelt carried out experiments to determine whether professional cleaning and disinfecting toys have an impact on the amount of virus in a DDC. In half the DCCs, the toys were sent to a cleaning service once a month. In the other half, the toys were not cleaned. The monthly cleaning scheme turned out to be to no avail whatsoever.
Viruses break down quickly in the environment. Ibfelt postulates that if cleaning is to have any effect, the toys need to be cleaned far more frequently, probably daily. No one has time for that. He suggests that other methods for avoiding disease be given priority.