C-U kids get lesson in disease prevention

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By Erica Yuenger

Green Silly String shot out of the canister toward the children, who scrambled away as quickly as they could.

“I dodged the snot!” said Lauran Miller, 9 of Champaign.

Miller and around 20 other children were part of Germ Buster Boot Camp, Champaign-Urbana Public Health District’s new disease prevention program.

Julie Pryde, public health administrator at CUPHD, said the group that came together on Friday, June 19 would act as a focus group to determine what materials would be used for the program when visiting schools, day cares and camps the rest of this summer and into the fall.

She said the program was developed because of the pervasiveness of the H1N1 virus, and the expectation that it will get worse in the fall.

“The messages are never going to change no matter how virulent this gets or how mild it remains,” Pryde said.

These messages are:

1. Cough or sneeze into your sleeve, not your hands.

2. Do not touch your “T-Zone,” including your eyes, nose and mouth.

3. Wash your hands frequently using good hand washing practices.

4. Stay home when you are sick to prevent infecting others

At the boot camp, the children learned these messages through various skits, videos and interactive activities with costumed characters named T-Zone, Sleevz, and Hand Wash-R.

CUPHD Wellness and Health Promotion employees, Deb Fruitt, Jennifer Jackson and Maria Capps dressed up as these characters, and each taught the children about their respective messages.

“They’re doing really well,” said Jackson. “They’re already utilizing their information.”

Kamryn Pettigrew, 10 of Champaign, said she came to learn how to wash her hands properly, and how to tell her friends at school when they are doing something that would spread germs.

Young children are just as aware of the swine flu epidemic as adults are, Pryde said, so they are a good resource for getting the word out about how to prevent the spread of disease.

“Kids will reinforce this way better than we ever can so we’re hoping that we can get Champaign County as healthy as possible this fall,” Pryde said.

Maya Pryde-Wait, 9 of Champaign said her friends are scared of the swine flu, but the boot camp taught her how to help prevent people from spreading germs, which helped to ease their fears.

A favorite among the germ busters was a theme song set to the tune of “Ghostbusters.”

“We’re going to send them back into the schools, and they’re going to call us if the soap hasn’t been refilled, if there are no paper towels, and we’re going to get some little activists out there,” Pryde said.

“Who you gonna call?” the children sang as they danced around. “GERMBUSTERS!”