Concerns regarding a potential swine flu pandemic continue to surface internationally. New cases have been reported in at least ten U.S. states and eight countries. This includes a twenty-three month old toddler in Texas who died recently, the first reported fatality outside of Mexico.

"With increasing reports of the swine flu, hand washing is more important than ever," said Cheryl Luptowski, NSF International Public Information Officer. "By teaching children proper hand washing practices, we can make a difference in preventing the spread of the flu and other serious illnesses."

The influenza virus is often spread when a person comes in contact with something that has been contaminated with germs, such as people's hands, doorknobs or countertops, and then touches their eyes, nose and mouth before washing their hands. In fact, an NSF International classroom study in 2005 found that commonly shared items, such as drinking fountains, desks and cafeteria trays typically have more germs than any other surface in a school.

"Our first line of defense against all viruses is hand washing," said Rob Donofrio, Ph.D. Director of NSF's Microbiology Laboratory. "Proper hand washing is one of the easiest things that we can all do to keep from getting sick and spreading illness, and our classroom study reinforces this."

In another study conducted by NSF in 2006, 42 percent of teachers surveyed said it is more difficult to get their students to use soap when they wash their hands than it is to get them to do their homework, and 86 percent of teachers say that parents often send a sick child to school since he/she may be unable to stay at home alone.

With youth at risk, NSF's Scrub Club provides an effective way for kids to learn the importance of hand washing to protect them against influenza. NSF International, a not-for-profit public health and safety organization, has developed a Web site that teaches children how to properly wash their hands.

About the Scrub Club
Each of the Scrub Club Soaper-Heroes represents one of the six steps in the hand washing process — "Hot Shot" and "Chill" combine to make the warm water essential for proper hand washing; "Squeaks" turns into various forms of soap; "Taki" becomes a clock that counts down the required 20 seconds for proper hand washing; "Scruff" reminds kids to clean around their nails; "Tank" turns into a sink to rinse away the germs and "P.T." transforms into paper towels. Interactive games, including the one that features the evil villain "Influenza Enzo - Stop Fluin' Around," teach children how illnesses are spread and how to prevent them.

The American Red Cross and NSF International have collaborated to help educate communities across the nation about the benefits of hand washing to fight germs and prevent illness.  The Partnership for Food Safety Education, another Scrub Club® partner that helped launch the Web site, is also helping with this initiative.

Background on Swine Influenza
Swine influenza is a highly-contagious flu infection in pigs. Symptoms include fever, coughing, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue and, in some cases, vomiting and diarrhea. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, "Swine flu viruses have been reported to spread from person-to-person, but in the past, this transmission was limited and not sustained beyond three people." Recently, however, the World Health Organization (WHO) raised the pandemic alert level to Phase 5, indicating sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus.

There are no current vaccines that contain the current swine influenza virus, and it is unknown whether or not existing seasonal influenza vaccines could offer protection to at-risk individuals. WHO says it could take five to six months until a vaccine is available.