whoopingWith the start of the flu season and the launch of European Antibiotics Awareness Day this month, healthcare professionals are being urged to educate young patients on good hygiene habits through Hygiene4Health and to support efforts to develop these habits in childhood.

The news comes following a survey in October by the Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH), which found that 75% of its members felt public understanding of the importance of hand washing was inadequate. The RSPH emphasised that hand washing is a habit best developed in childhood.

The Hygiene4Health website (www.hygiene4health.com) is designed by Sanofi Pasteur MSD in association with healthcare and Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) teaching professionals and aims to provide fun and ‘hands on’ materials for children and their families to engage in hand washing and other hygiene practices.

Sharon White, Professional Officer at the School and Public Health Nurses Association (SAPHNA) an organisation involved with the campaign said: "Introducing children to good hand and respiratory hygiene practices from an early age will equip them with life-long skills which are essential in the fight to reduce and protect them from infection."

The Hygiene4Health website houses downloadable interactive resources, which can be used at GP surgeries, health centres and family clinics. These include posters, stickers and certificates which can be used as reward systems.

The materials are targeted at children aged from 2 ½ to 5 years and are focused around the central hygiene hero characters, including Captain Handwash and Trisha Tissue, whose special powers help children to learn effective hand washing and correct tissue disposal practices.

Surveillance shows that under-5s are especially at risk of catching and spreading the H1N1 flu virus, with 200 influenza-like cases reported per 100,000 in the population in 2010 /11, a third of whom had no underlying illness.

Observations from healthcare professionals have shown children to be the key vectors of flu, picking it up at play school or nursery, and once carriers, introducing it to the family where it has the tendency to spread among older siblings, parents and eventually grandparents, another high risk group.

With four out of five communicable illnesses spread by touch, personal hygiene habits, such as improving hand washing and respiratory hygiene are key in preventing the spread of viruses such as H1N1. Good habits are particularly important for young children, where poor hygiene and physical closeness traditionally allow the influenza virus to thrive.