It's inevitable: Every school year, parents, teachers and administrators must deal with overwhelming numbers of sick children. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average child catches at least eight colds in a year, and kids in the United States miss as many as 189 million school days each year because of colds.

Typically, precautionary measures have focused on flu shots and other preventive care. Although these actions are important, administrators also should concentrate on the way their schools are being cleaned. Many staff responsible for cleaning schools and removing germs are not trained properly and are using outdated cleaning methods that don't eradicate bacteria. By improving the way schools are cleaned, administrators can fight germs on the ground level and effectively keep kids and teachers in the classroom.

Hygiene is not a dirty word

The significance of good hygiene and cleaning often go unrecognized in controlling the spread of common diseases. In a recent survey of the medical profession, the British medical journal, The Lancet, reported that hygiene and sanitation have had the biggest influence on the spread of human diseases in the history of humankind, even more than antibiotics and vaccines. Even today, few people are aware that four out of five common infections (colds, flu, diarrhea, and skin infections) can be spread through the environment — air, water, food and contact with surfaces.

For most of these common illnesses, effective vaccines have not been developed, and we are subjected to these infections throughout our lifetime. Adults will experience two to three respiratory infections per year, and children double that. This results in almost 1 billion respiratory infections per year in the United States, and the cost to society is billions of dollars.

However, good hygiene practices that emphasize handwashing or hand sanitizers, along with proper cleaning of work and school environments, can reduce significantly the number of infections each year. They also can prevent school closures and other cancellations, such as sporting events or workshops.