We live pretty far out of what most consider a "town." It's about 13 miles to the nearest heavily frequented playground, but toddlers really need social interaction, so we make that trip on average probably about twice a month so they can play with strange kids. The thing is, every time we go, without fail, my kids get sick. Now I don't have bubble boys. I don't own sanitizer. I don't clean cart handles at the store. I let nature keep my kids immune system strong, so if store visits don't get them sick even using those kid magnet car-carts, but the park does, that says something about the germ level at parks, doesn't it?
How germy is the park then?
Back in 2007 Good Morning America did this nifty test. They swabbed 60 playgrounds from around the US from urban and rural areas around New York, Virginia, Maryland, and Washington. 59 of 60 samples contained germs that could make kids sick. Every single swab contained fecal matter-yeah, human poop in every sample. Half the park samples came back with E.coli. Salmonella, hepatitis A, shigella, strep-B and Staph were also found in some samples.
Why so germy?
The obvious answer is lots of little unwashed hands. While shopping carts may see quite a few hands a day, parks have a much higher capacity and draw for kids who are less likely to wash their hands, cover their mouth when sneezing or cough, not pick their noses, itch their butts, and so on. Granted the elements such as cold and rain will knock down germ counts, but because playgrounds see nearly constant use and are rarely disinfected this doesn't do much to keep parks "clean." Some germs can survive the elements as well, such as Staphylococcus aureus, which by the way was found in some of the previously mentioned playground samples. Depending on the bacteria life spans can range from instant death from the sun to months or even hundreds years.
What's a parent to do?
I couldn't possibly simply deny my toddlers the joy of parks, not to mention once they begin school parks are unavoidable. So, how the heck do you avoid all the before-mentioned gross at playgrounds that leads to sickness?
-Encourage good hygiene in your kids. Never let your toddler eat immediately after park play without washing or sanitizing hands, most bacteria need to be ingested to infect kids. Do your part to try to downgrade germ levels by teaching your child to wash their hands after using the potty, covering their mouth, etc.
-Keep clean. No-water sanitizer can be great for park trips. Try to clean little fingers and faces after play to avoid transferring germs to your car and home.
-Choose good parks. Finally, sunny parks tend to have fewer germs than their shady counterparts as heat and light kill many types of bacteria. Look for well-lit, well-maintained parks, and keep a look out for signs of vandalism. I've found urine and feces on park equipment that was obviously intentionally placed many times.
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