Bring Your Toys to the Pediatrician’s Office

It is winter, a time of incessant coughing. Every December, my kids have a bit of a phlegmatic hack that peaks after a few days and then gets … mostly better, except for the night when the hackathon re-asserts itself. In the end, I get tired of it, and I go to the pediatrician.

My children love the doctor. If they don’t have a picture, they are happy to pay a visit, chat with a cute secretary, get a lollipop, and most importantly, play with the many interesting toys that are kept in the office in a small play area. My 4 year old especially loves the play kitchen with all its many pots, pans and wooden cartons of milk and germs . Yes, the space is filled with germs – the germs of all the children who went through the pediatrician’s office that day.

So far I’ve basically managed to get it out of my head with some sort of Jedi mind trick: la la la , you can’t get sick from the doctor’s office because the doctor somehow provides a force field of good health around the toy in the hall expectations.

It turns out that this is not true, the doctors themselves say. The American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement in October entitled “ Infection Prevention and Control in Pediatric Outpatient Settings,” essentially guidelines on how clinics can reduce transmission of infectious diseases.

Many articles focus on hand washing and general equipment cleaning, but the authors also note that toys, especially plush toys, “have been implicated in the transmission of certain pathogens.” In fact, he notes that staying in the waiting room doesn’t reduce the risk of infection very well:

Waiting rooms and reception areas offer child-to-child interaction with the simultaneous transmission of infectious agents from child to child. Waiting rooms are like childcare facilities, where environmental pollution and transmission of infectious agents occur at a faster rate than at home.

In other words, if you thought kindergarten was a petri dish, wait while you spend some time with 15 other sick children waiting in line with the doctor. The authors offer many suggestions to make the reception area a less viral minefield, including attempts to reduce waiting times and crowds, “cluster” visits to hospitals and hospitals, and encouraging parents to bring their toys and books from home. This is doubly true for vulnerable children, such as those with cystic fibrosis.

Perry Klass, a pediatrician writing for the New York Times , interviewed one of the study’s authors, who suggested asking questions about infection control when choosing a pediatrician and when visiting a patient, telling the appointment scribe about your child’s symptoms. If they have something really infectious, such as chickenpox or measles, the doctor may prescribe a different protocol to examine them. (Both Klass and the authors emphasize that getting your children fully vaccinated is the best defense against infectious diseases.)

And Klass points out that you don’t have to wait in the waiting room – you can get in your car or walk around the block until they are ready to see your child. But if you get stuck for a minute or two, take a good toy in your bag so Junior isn’t distracted. I might even start bringing my pots and pans from home.


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