Archive for March, 2008

School Nurses on the Front Line

Monday, March 31st, 2008

I had the great privilege of giving my “Germ Proof  Your Schools” talk at the 2008 Annual PASNAP (Pennsylvania Association of School Nurses and Practitioners) Education Conference this past weekend.  The talk is based on the book Germ Proof Your Kids – The Complete Guide to Protecting (without Overprotecting) Your Family from Infections (ASM Press, 2008)(  PASNAP is a terrific organization of committed, energetic leaders and members, and the ”Germ Proof Your Schools” talk gave me the opportunity to remind all of them, and now all of you reading my GERMBlog, how vital school nursing is not only to the health of our school kids, but to the health of the entire country as well. Here’s why:

Schools are truly “ground zero” for infectious disease transmission, because schools are both amplifiers of personal and community infections, as well as potential original sources of infections. There are many examples of both the amplifier and the originator roles that schools play in infectious diseases. Of the 3 great influenza pandemics of the 20th century (1918, 1957, and 1968), the mildest of the 3 (1968) reached its peak during the winter break weeks of December. Because kids were not in school, the 1968 flu pandemic never really took hold in the U.S. to the extent that its forerunners did. In contrast, those two more severe pandemics (1918 and 1957) occurred just as kids were returning to school in Sept-Oct.  Kids in school rapidly became infected, and in turn infected their families and their communities. Influenza pandemics are examples of the amplifier role of schools in infectious diseases.  Another extraordinary example of the critical role that schools play as germ amplifiers is smallpox.  It was mandatory school smallpox vaccination laws that were the ultimate key to eradicating that dread disease from this country – by protecting kids in schools, we saved millions of their lives as well as the lives of millions of others in the larger community.  Similar successes have been seen with mandatory polio, measles, mumps, meningitis, and other vaccines that are given to school kids and in so doing protect the country’s population as a whole.

This past Sept-Oct (2007), we saw examples of the potential for schools to be the original source of infections.  MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) outbreaks occurred in schools throughout the country (see Dr. Rotbart’s GERMBlog entries of October 17, 2007 and October 28, 2007). Although never proven to come from environmental contamination in the schools, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and school districts across the country undertook rigorous measures to clean and disinfect schools.

At the forefront of the war against infectious diseases stand our school nurses.  In my talk, “Germ Proof Your Schools”, I emphasized to the PASNAP nurses the 3 core strategies that nurses must take to reduce school infections and reduce student absenteesim. The strategies are:

1. Reinforce students’ personal health and hygiene practices (including handwashing, wound care, vaccines, proper nutrition, adequate sleep, reduced stress, appropriate clothes to match the weather, and regular moderate excercise)

2. Adhere to health department exclusion and inclusion policies for infectious diseases (each state sets its own rules for which infections or symptoms warrant exclusion from school, and for how long).

3. Practice prudent environmental hygiene (strategic disinfecting policies, as well as meticulous attention to food safety).

There is no better group of professionals than our school nurses to undertake this crucial mission for the health of our kids and for the health of our country.

For much, much more about school health and protecting our kids from germs, see Germ Proof Your Kids – The Complete Guide to Protecting (without Overprotecting) Your Family from Infections (ASM Press, 2008) (

Thanks to Cheryl Mattern and her colleagues at PASNAP for a wonderful meeting. Keep up the good work you do for our our kids and for all of us.


Another “Miracle Cold Remedy” that isn’t

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

Herbal products that purport to “boost” your immunity and “prevent” or “treat” infections are plentiful. In researching my book, Germ Proof Your Kids – The Complete Guide to Protecting (without Overprotecting) Your Family from Infections (ASM Press, Washington, D.C., 2008), I went to the health food stores and found more than 2 dozen such products! I discuss each, along with the scientific data (or lack therof) to support their claims in Chapter 10 of Germ Proof. One of the most wildly successful products of this line is Airborne, a combination of herbs and vitamins designed and marketed by a former school teacher. That product is also discussed in Chapter 10 of Germ Proof Your Kids – The Complete Guide to Protecting (without Overprotecting) Your Family from Infections.

Today, ABC News is reporting that the manufacturer of Airborne is settling a class-action suit for false claims made by the product – refunds in excess of $23M will be made to consumers who fell for the claim that Airborne was a “miracle cold buster”.

Herbal products are classified as “dietary supplements” by the FDA and not subject to the type of oversight that the government applies to “legitimate” medicines that require prescriptions or are sold with FDA approval over-the-counter.

Manufacturers of “dietary supplements” can (and do) make outrageous claims to health benefits without having to account to anyone regarding the truth or safety of those claims. A dietary supplement manufacturer is required to do virtually nothing before marketing a product (see Chapter 10 of Germ Proof Your Kids – The Complete Guide to Protecting (without Overprotecting) Your Family from Infections .

So, buyer beware. Before giving your kids a supplement, be certain that it has proven benefits and is safe. Few supplements meet those criteria. In addition to the word “miracle”, even the word “cold” has now been removed from Airborne packaging.