Got Germs?

Playgrounds, restaurant high chairs, and petting zoos can all be seriously icky germy zones. Here's how to protect your child.

Playgrounds

Germy Zone: The Playground

Your local jungle gym is more germ-infested than a public bathroom, according to one study. Why? "Restrooms tend to get disinfected often," says researcher Kelly Reynolds, PhD, associate professor at the University of Arizona College of Public Health, in Tucson. "But playground equipment almost never gets cleaned." Harmful germs -- such as those in the mucus that kids wipe from their noses -- can linger for days. Sandboxes are gross too: Squirrels and birds can leave behind fecal matter, which may cause stomach illnesses and skin infections in young kids.

Stay safe: Tempted to clean ladders and handles with a disinfecting wipe? Don't bother. It's practically impossible to get rid of all the germs. Instead, teach your child not to touch her mouth, nose, or eyes when she's at the playground, and clean her hands with an alcohol-based hand gel before you leave the park. And if you have a backyard sandbox, keep it covered when you're not using it.

Germy Zone: Ball Pits

Enclosed play areas containing plastic balls, which are popular at kids' gyms and fast-food restaurants, are among the dirtiest places to let your child roam. "Kids with leaky diapers play in them, and the pits rarely get cleaned," says Dr. Reynolds. A child's feces can contain E. coli, rotavirus, and salmonella, all of which can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea. Young children can also pass germs onto the balls with their hands and feet.

Stay safe: If you decide to visit a pit, tell your child that he must thoroughly wash his hands before and after playing.

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