As a retired teacher, I know how important teacher resources can be. Fortunately, ideas for things like lesson plans, study sheets, organizational skills, classroom management, and other teacher resources can be found easily. There are online sites and books that are devoted to general teaching and to specific subject areas and grade levels. Something I haven’t seen a lot of time and effort devoted to, however, is health. Teachers are exposed to lots of infectious diseases during the school year, and I think some appropriate health tips are in order. Germs are everywhere, and many are constantly trying to invade our bodies. These germs might be in the form of a virus or harmful bacteria, and many thrive in school settings where large numbers of people are in close contact with each other. And as we all know, kids aren’t exactly known for following stellar hygiene habits, either. The typical school setting is a battlefield, with the germs against the humans. If you want to win the war with infectious diseases, you’ll need to be proactive. Use the health tips offered in this article as personal teacher resources to keep yourself healthy!
Infectious diseases are illnesses that are “catching.” They spread through person-to-person contact, by touching objects that have been touched by an infected person, by sharing body fluids, by eating contaminated foods, and through coughs and sneezes. Communicable diseases that are airborne are perhaps the most difficult to avoid. Diseases can also be spread by insects, but those aren’t usually a big concern for schools. The most common problem with insects in school is usually head lice infestation, and according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), head lice don’t spread diseases.
Think about all the infectious diseases you’re exposed to as a teacher. You come in direct or indirect contact with hundreds of people every day, including students, other teachers, school staff, and parents. It’s impossible to totally avoid people who might be contagious, as they might not appear to be sick. Of course, they might also leave behind germs on desks, doorknobs, and books, and share their germs in the very air you breathe. When you think about it, it’s a wonder we educators don’t stay sick all the time!
Some of the most common infectious diseases found in U.S. schools are rhinoviruses, influenza, bronchitis, adenovirus, mononucleosis, E. coli infections, campylobacteriosis, rotavirus, cytomegalovirus, enteroviruses, croup, herpes gladiatorum, herpes simplex virus, Fifth disease, pneumonia, hepatitis A, meningitis, impetigo, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), norovirus, viral respiratory infections, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and strep throat.
Something else that might run rampant through schools is conjunctivitis, also called “pink eye.” Pink eye is spread by coming in contact with fluid from the eyes, hands, mouth, or nose of an infected person, or by touching items that have been contaminated by the virus or bacteria. I’ve had pink eye several times, and most of the cases were just annoying. Once, however, I had conjunctivitis that developed into a serious illness. I had a high fever, and the left half of my face swelled so much that I looked like the Elephant Man. I wound up taking antibiotics to get rid of the infection.
When most of think of germs, we’re referring to a host of viruses and bacteria that have the ability to make us sick. Germs might also include protozoa and fungi. In this article, I’m going to focus mainly on avoiding virus and bacteria-caused infectious diseases, as those are the ones that were the most problematic when I was teaching.
What is a virus? Some doctors and scientists consider viruses to be living organisms, while many others don’t. Like living organisms, a virus can reproduce and evolve, but viruses don’t have cellular structure. They have to have a host cell in order to reproduce. A virus particle is usually much smaller than a bacterium cell, and in fact, bacteria can be invaded by viruses. Despite their tiny size, viruses can wreak havoc with the immune system, and antibiotics don’t work in eliminating an infection caused by a virus. Antiviral drugs work on some viruses, but not on every virus.
Bacteria are living microorganisms that present in a wide range of shapes, and they can be found practically everywhere: in the soil, in water, in plants, in animals, in insects, in rocks, and even in radioactive waste. Our bodies play host to trillions of bacteria cells. Some are harmless, some are helpful, and some are deadly. We usually reserve the negative term “germs” for the harmful bacteria.
Bacteria cells grow in size and then reproduce through asexual means. Unlike viruses, bacteria cells don’t need to use the cells of a host to accomplish this, and when conditions are right, bacteria can multiply rapidly. In fact, they can double in less than ten minutes. They can have their own methods of motility, too, and some can survive without oxygen.
How long can germs survive in the environment? That depends on the type of bacteria or virus. Some can survive for just minutes, while others can survive for much, much longer. For example, some species of bacteria create endospores that can remain inactive until they encounter suitable conditions. In this form, the basic core of the bacterium is covered by a hard coat that can protect it from freezing temperatures, high heat, disinfectants, and even radiation. Bacteria endospores can be viable for over a million years. That’s what I’d call some tough germs!
Your immune system plays an important role in how often you “catch” infectious diseases and on how much you’ll be affected by germs and illnesses. The human immune system is actually made up of two different systems – the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system. Our skin is our first defense against many invaders. When a cut or wound is present, an opening is created. Of course, other openings can provide pathways, including the nose, the eyes, the mouth, and the ears. If a virus, bacteria, or other pathogen makes it past the first layer, the innate system responds in a non-specific way. It creates cytokines, sends immune cells to specific sites, and uses white blood cells to remove harmful foreign substances from tissues, lymph fluid, blood, and organs. It also alerts and activates the adaptive immune system.
The adaptive immune system is more specific with its line of defense. It’s made up of white blood cells called lymphocytes, which include T cells and B cells. These cells are made in the bone marrow and circulate through the blood, lymph fluid, and tissues. These cells have the ability to differentiate between normal body cells and foreign invaders, and they use several different mechanisms to destroy harmful pathogens. They might “eat” the invading cells by engulfing them, they might cause invading cells to rupture, or they may release a substance that kills the “bad” cells. B cells are also capable of creating antibodies that recognize and neutralize antigens.
Some cells in the immune system have memories, too. Memory B cells, for instance, are cells that have encountered specific antigens in the past, and they have the ability to create antibodies that are specific to the antigens they’ve battled before. Wow! The human immune system is fascinating and works tirelessly to protect us, but we need to take good care of it.
Healthy Eating – How to Boost Your Immune System
Healthy eating can be a great first line of defense for wellness. When you’re in good health, your body is stronger and better able to fight off infectious diseases. Obviously, a healthy immune system is your first line of defense against an invading virus or bacteria. So…how do you keep you immune system strong and healthy? One way is to practice healthy eating habits.
Get plenty of antioxidants in your diet by including lots of fruits and veggies. The “big three” antioxidants are vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A. Which foods deliver healthy amounts of these immune system boosters? I’ve listed a few in the table below. Remember, though, that you’ll get more health benefits if you eat these foods raw, or in some cases, just barely steamed.
|Vitamin C||Vitamin E||Beta Carotene|
wheat germ oil
cooked Swiss chard
red bell peppers
cooked turnip greens
cooked mustard greens
red leaf lettuce
coked taro root
red chili powder
cooked tomato products
hot pepper sauce
More Ways to Boost Your Immune System
Although beta-carotene and vitamins A and C are the most important antioxidants, they aren’t the only ones. Minerals play an important role, too, with zinc and selenium at the top of the list. Good sources of zinc include oysters, Alaskan king crab, beef, chicken thighs and legs, Swiss cheese, almonds, cashews, oatmeal, lobster, kidney beans, chickpeas, yogurt, and pork loin. For selenium, include foods like Brazil nuts, eggs, salmon, chicken, barley, lamb, beef, scallops, shrimp, tuna, mustard seeds, and halibut.
Consuming antioxidants is great, but it’s not the only way to boost your immune system. Several studies suggest that consuming garlic can play a role in fighting viruses and bacteria. Getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight can also help.
Our beneficial bacteria can also help us fight off harmful bacteria, viruses, and other infections. Beneficial bacteria living in the digestive tract can help the body produce more T cells, which boost your immune system. Consuming probiotics might help the beneficial bacteria thrive.
Emotional stress also plays a part in how well the immune system works. Several studies conducted on laboratory animals revealed this. Mice and monkeys were placed in stressful situations like being afraid or being isolated, and scientists discovered that these animals had suppressed immune systems as a result. Studies on humans who were under emotional and psychological stress revealed that these individuals had lower T cell activity and made fewer antibodies.
I have several teacher-friends who swear by a product called “Airborne.” It was created by a teacher. Several of my co-workers took Airborne regularly during cold and flu season as a way to boost the immune system and stave off the infectious diseases. Airborne is available without a prescription and contains antioxidant vitamins, minerals, amino acids, electrolytes, and herbs. More specifically, it provides vitamin A, vitamin B2, vitamin C, vitamin E, lysine, glutamine, zinc, selenium, manganese, potassium, sodium, manganese, magnesium, ginger, Echinacea, Chinese Vitex fruit, Forsythia, Lonicera, Schizonepeta, and Isatis root. Airborne is available in chewable tablets, powder, and effervescent tablets. It comes in several fruit flavors.
As a retired teacher, I know how important it is for students to attend school. I think this emphasis can be overdone at times, though. I’ve known kids who felt they just couldn’t miss a day of school, even when they were ill. They go to school sick and generously spread their germs to others. Please tell your students to stay home when they’re ill, and pass this information on to parents. Let them know you’ll help them catch up after returning to school following an absence due to illness.
Most modern classrooms have individual climate control, allowing the teacher to decide how warm or cool she wants to keep her room. Turn that thermostat down! Germs thrive in warm air, so lower temperatures won’t be quite as friendly to them. If you have a window or windows that open, get some fresh air into your class.
Hand sanitizer was always a “biggie” in my class. I kept a huge bottle of it on my desk and encouraged the kids to use it, and I used it several times a day. I taught high school seniors, so my students’ playing with the stuff wasn’t a problem. If you teach young children, you might want to be in charge of dispensing the hand sanitizer yourself. Also, with young kids, you’ll probably want to emphasize how important hand washing is.
Next to the big bottle of hand sanitizer, I always kept a box of tissues…or two. Encourage your kids to use them when they have a cough, sneezes, or runny nose. Also, teach the kids to cough into their elbow if they can’t get to a tissue in time.
Germs can lurk on every surface in your classroom, so keep them clean. I liked using Clorox disinfecting wipes for this purpose. I wiped down my desk, the student desks, the pencil sharpener, and the doorknob on a regular basis. During cold and flu season, I did this at the end of every day.
Do your best to keep your hands away from your face. Touching your mouth, nose, and/or eyes is a great way to invite a virus or bacteria into your body. Remember that terrible case of conjunctivitis I told you about? Had I followed my own advice, I might well have been able to avoid that particular misery.
When you’re sick, see your physician. If you doctor prescribes antibiotics, take them religiously, just as ordered. It’s extremely important for you to finish all the pills or capsules, too, even when you begin to feel better. Sometimes with infectious diseases caused by bacteria, you’ll feel much better even when small amounts of bacteria are still lingering. The last surviving cells are the strongest, and if you stop taking your medications before they’ve been eliminated, you can easily get sick again, and the bacteria will have built up a resistance to the antibiotic you’ve been taking.
Get plenty of rest. Yes, I know, that’s often difficult for a responsible teacher to do. We often put our jobs and students ahead of ourselves, and for those of us with children, their needs usually come before our own, too. You have to convince yourself that it’s best for everyone if you don’t go to school when you’re sick. It might seem like the noble and selfless thing to do, but consider the bigger picture. If you still have an infectious disease, the chances are good that some of your students will get sick, too. And as far as your family is concerned, the quicker you can get back to 100%, the better. So what if your house is messy and the kids have to eat fast food or takeout for a couple of days?
You also need to get regular moderate exercise. It’s good for your general overall health and helps to keep your body strong and functioning well. It also improves circulation, which could provide a direct boost for the immune system.
Please take this teacher resources information seriously. The worst you might ever catch at school from lingering germs could be something as simple as a common cold, but the chances are great that you’ll also be exposed to more serious infectious diseases. And if you don’t have a healthy immune system, exposure could lead to infection. There’s no way to completely avoid viruses and harmful bacteria, unless you live in a protective bubble your entire life. You can, however, decrease your chances of contracting infectious diseases by employing health tips on a consistent basis. You can help your students avoid illnesses, too. If you make these health tips part of your routine, you’ll find that they don’t take a lot of time or effort, yet the rewards can be great. Print this information on avoiding and reducing infectious diseases and place it one of your files with other teacher resources!
Amadou on March 31, 2014:
Hi Joi,Heard about tis site fr colleague, n relaly surprised to find a blog of urs here! It's my virgin time here.U know my email so hope to hear fr ya real soon. Completely lost u.Argh, recently many down with flu, so do drink lots of water n there's one very helpful chinese medic-go any chinese Fu Hua or Zheng Zhong Pin medical hall, buy a pack about $2 千张纸with bee head n prunes, boil with hot water n drink it k. It tastes more prunish..alil sour n sweet. Very tasty but very effective in bringing back voice n soothin throat. Drink 2-3packs for a wk, alternatively.U know how to find me, keep in touch =)Val
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on April 16, 2013:
sari, thanks so much for stopping by!
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on April 16, 2013:
Yep, Doc - eat up! lol
drbj and sherry from south Florida on April 15, 2013:
Realistic, practical and necessary information, Holle, for all teachers as well as anyone else who interfaces with the public on a daily basis.
So one of my favorite foods, pork loin, is an excellent source of zinc - who knew?
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on April 15, 2013:
Thanks, Eric. Good to see you!
Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on April 15, 2013:
Well done, practical and important.