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New AAP guidelines aim to stop germs from spreading in doctor’s waiting rooms

We were there to get stitches for my son’s forehead, but when I saw all the sick and sneezy kids in our doctor’s waiting room, I was suddenly more worried about germs than facial scars.

The last thing any parent—or pediatrician—wants is for a child to become ill because they went to the doctor, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has updated its guidelines to make waiting rooms a little less germy.

The new guidelines for “Infection Prevention and Control in Pediatric Ambulatory Settings” mean you’re less likely to see shared toys waiting for your kids in the waiting room, but you might see face masks and plenty of Purell.

The waiting room guidelines, which were last updated in 2007, state that infection control in doctor’s offices should be just as strict as it is in hospitals, and recommends mandatory annual influenza immunization for clinic staff.

The AAP suggests parents who suspect their child is contagious can do their part by informing staff of this immediately on or before arrival. Some clinics or offices might have you use a separate entrance or escort you and your child right into an exam room.

For those who aren’t contagious and must wait in the waiting room, posters and other visual aids are recommended to remind parents and kids to cover a sneezy nose or coughing mouth with an elbow instead of a hand, and to properly dispose of tissues (which should be plentiful in the waiting area)

If you do see communal toys among the tissues and hand sanitizer, they most likely will not be of the plush variety. Ten years ago the AAP recommended against soft playthings, noting that “furry toys are less desirable” in waiting rooms because of the way they can hold onto germs (and they’re hard to clean).

In the new guidelines the AAP takes a firmer stance, noting that plush toys “should generally be avoided,” and that “parents should be encouraged to bring their own [toys]”. As the report’s authors note, “pathogenic bacteria have been recovered from toys in ambulatory waiting areas,” and nobody wants their child exposed to that.

A lot of parents are already adhering to these guidelines (I don’t care how long we were in the waiting room, my son wasn’t going to be touching any of the toys) but it’s great to see the AAP doing everything it can to make sure exposure to germs while waiting to see the doctor doesn’t result in a return trip.

After all, we’re there to prevent illness, not catch one!

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