- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 26, 2005

All manner of menacing microbes are always on the prowl, looking for an opportunity to attack the human immune system. One of the best defenses against many strains of infectious diseases is a simple but thorough hand-washing.

Last year, in conjunction with National Clean Hands Week and National Food Safety Education Month, a 44-year-old organization created an animated, interactive Web site to remind children 3 to 8 years old about the virtues of soap and water.

NSF Scrub Club

Site address: www.scrubclub.org

Creator: NSF International, a nonprofit group formerly named the National Sanitation Foundation, developed and maintains the site. Known for certifying products and writing public health standards, the group is based in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Creator quotable: “NSF International created www. scrubclub.org to help protect children from food-borne illnesses and infectious diseases by teaching them about the importance of hand-washing,” says Jerry Bowman, NSF director of communications.

“Each year, more than 164 million school days are lost due to illness, but this number could be greatly reduced with proper hand-washing. By offering children, parents and teachers a fun and educational Web site, our goal is to reduce the number of sick days and ultimately improve the overall hygiene of children and adults.”

Word from the Webwise: Offering an amusing and informative experience, the site chronicles the adventures of seven squeaky clean preteens as they battle microscopic villains.

Loaded with mini-cartoons, silly characters and plenty of humorous dialogue, pages relate the heroic exploits of mysterious leader Ship-Shape and his transforming band of washers — including the strong, silent Tank who turns into a sink — as they jump into the hands of children to battle Bac and his bacteria bad guys.

From the opening screen where the gang pops out of bubbles, visitors can check out the names of the heroes (who represent the steps involved in proper hand-washing), the primary sections, and can hear the club’s theme song along with a tune to wash hands by.

Sections include Villains Gallery, where visitors learn about Influenza Enzo (representing the flu), E. Coli, Sal Monella, Shigella, Bac and Campy Lobacter. Passing the cursor over each character reveals the germ facts about the troublemakers and bios of the Scrub Club’s washing wonders.

Additionally, visitors will find five challenges under Games and a downloadable Flu Crime Fighting Kit based on the club’s animated dealings with the godfather of all viruses, Influenza Enzo.

Overall, pages pound children over the head with the six-step process to successfully wash hands — wet hands with warm water, apply soap, wash for 20 seconds with vigorous rubbing, pay attention to fingernails, wash the bacteria away and dry the hands.

Ease of use: The Scrub Club should work with all popular operating systems and browsers, including Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari. A broadband connection is recommended to enjoy the cartoony shenanigans.

Don’t miss: The site offers 15-minute cartoon “web-isodes.” The first, titled “The Good, the Bac and the Ugly,” highlights the miscues of Frankie Petrolunga, who reaches for an apple after having handled raw chicken. Of course, the Scrub Club gang is called in to battle the outlaw Sal Monella and his stampeding posse of germs in the cactus-filled canyon representing Frankie’s hands. Pay close attention for a special appearance by cabaret singer Liza Monella.

Family activity: A special section of Downloads gives educators a two-day guide to classroom projects and allows the whole clan to enjoy posting a six-step hand-washing poster on any bathroom mirror and working on a coloring book.

Cybersitter synopsis: Slick characterizations of a well-defined cartoon world and a concise amount of content help solidify this as a great site to spend a few hours exploring. It’s guaranteed to turn everyone in the household into germophobes. I can feel those critters hiding on my keyboard as I type — quick, somebody get me a Wetnap.

Overall grade: A

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it’s accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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