Can thumb sucking increase sickness among children?

By David Hutto

As an adult you surely would not dream of running your hands over multiple surfaces and then licking off the collected bacteria and viruses. Yet children who suck their thumbs are doing exactly this.

As parents will testify, even without thumbsucking, young children consistently bring home colds and illnesses picked up from other kids. While part of that frequency of illness may be due to developing immune systems, children also become ill because of undeveloped health habits. With poor hygiene, children will transfer bacteria and viruses from nasal mucus or saliva to objects around them.

Those objects then become a source for other children to acquire infection. As WebMD points out, “Some viruses and bacteria can live several hours on hard surfaces like cafeteria tables, telephone receivers, computer keyboards, and doorknobs.” Children who suck their thumbs after such contact are at increased risk of infection from whatever has been left there.

Different types of bacteria have varying routes of transmission. Some use airborn routes and others are transmitted in food, but many can be acquired from the hands after touching a source of infection. Colds, for instance, mostly caused by rhinoviruses, can be transmitted from mucus on the hand. Viruses can also be transferred through contact with an infected person’s saliva.

There are many types of diseases that may be transmitted by hand: (from respiratory secretions) influenza, Streptococcus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and the common cold; (from urine, saliva, or other body substances) cytomegalovirus, typhoid, staphylococcal organisms, and Epstein-Barr virus; (from fecal sources) salmonellosis, shigellosis, hepatitis A, giardiasis, enterovirus, amebiasis, and campylobacteriosis (Wisconsin Department of Health Services). There is even one study of thumbsucking children that found a shocking 80% of them had acquired parasitic infections (Idowu).

Most of these diseases can be avoided, since the route of infection is from the hands to the mouth, nose, or eyes, and intervention in this transmission is possible. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Keeping hands clean through improved hand hygiene is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.” Or as the Minnesota Department of Health has described the situation, “Simply washing your hands can help prevent such illnesses as the common cold or eye infections.”

Realistically, in spite of the importance of hand hygiene, we cannot expect young children to quickly adopt the careful handwashing and good hygiene that come with age. Children resist washing their hands, do not always wash well, and are generally unaware of disease transmission from the hands.

In this complicated situation, thumbsucking poses an added risk of infection, beyond what other children normally experience. With a device like Tguard, however, thumbsucking can be effectively prevented without trauma to a child. By gently stopping children from sucking their thumbs, we are practicing good parenting and protecting them from a range of potential infections. Tguard is one more way to help keep your child healthy.

 

Sources

1. WebMD, http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/cold-guide/cold-prevention-hand-washing.

2. Wisconsin Department of Health Services, http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/publications/p4/p42052.pdf.

3. Idowu OA, Babatunde O, Soniran T, Adediran A. “Parasitic infections in finger-sucking school age children.” The Pediatric and Infectious Disease Journal. 201; 30 (9): 791-92.

4. CDC, http://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/.

5. Minnesota Department of Health, http://www.health.state.mn.us/handhygiene/why/5ways.html.

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