Would you wash your hands more thoroughly if you could literally see the germs?
Wilkes-Lincoln County Extension Agent Martha Partridge has been putting this question to the test with primary-school children in her counties.
With the help of a product called GlitterBug, Partridge has developed an effective way of teaching children the proper way to wash their hands.
In the Schools
"In the fall, the schools begin teaching children about proper hygiene," Partridge said. "They asked if I had a program I could present, and that's how it all began."
That was three years ago when Partridge presented the program for the first time to preschool, kindergarten and Head Start children. Since then, the success of the program has mushroomed. She now presents the program to primary-school children.
Glowing Germ Lotion
Partridge begins by telling the children about the importance of washing their hands to fight against disease-carrying germs.
"Then I pump some of the GlitterBug (TM) potion in each child's hands and tell him to rub it on just like hand lotion," she said.
Once the children have the potion on their hands, Partridge turns off the room's traditional lighting and turns on an ultraviolet or black light.
"Under the black light, the GlitterBug potion causes their little hands to glow and look like ghost hands," she said. "The kids and the teachers love this. It's a big attention-getter and a real eye opener."
Partridge then explains to the children the importance of using soap, water and friction to remove germs from their hands. Next, the children head to the sinks for the ultimate tests.
The ABCs of Hand-Washing
"I tell them not to hurry when washing their hands," Partridge said. "They understand better when I tell them to count slowly to 20 or 30 while washing their hands or to say their ABCs or sing Happy Birthday before they turn off the faucet."
Back in the classroom, Partridge prepares the children for their results.
"I tell them that some germs will still be there, and I'm always right," she said. "I can always pick out the children who bite their nails, because the GlitterBug potion will still be in the creases around their fingernails. It also sticks to the natural creases of all the children's hands."
Partridge remembers one particular classroom in which the black light proved very effective.
"The county fair had been the night before, so some of the children had stamps on their hands from the ticket gate," she said. "When I turned on the black light, all those stamps glowed. You could tell which children hadn't washed their hands since they left the fair the night before."
Children Teaching Parents
The program reaches the parents, too, as the children rush home to tell about their day.
"I've had parents tell me their child came home and taught them the right way to wash their hands," Partridge said. "I've also had children tell me, 'My mama doesn't do this, and she should.'"
Partridge has found the program can also be used effectively with adults.
"There's a GlitterBug powder that you dust on handouts," Partridge said. "When the person touches the handout and then scratches their face, the powder will show up under the black light."
Adult groups are surprised and sometimes embarrassed, she said, when the black light is turned on.
"I think the children really enjoy this program, and I always get positive evaluations from teachers and parents," Partridge said.
"When I come back to a school, the kids always remember me from the year before," she said. "They see me in the hallway and say, 'Hey, there's the germ lady.'"
(Photo provided by Martha Partridge. Glitterbug logo provided by Brevis Corporation.)
(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)