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Stop Those Germs!

Keep 'Em Clean

Get a flu shot -- for everyone. It's the single most effective measure to keep kids and parents healthy. October is the best time if they're available, but a shot by the end of November will still protect throughout the flu season. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises it for all children older than 6 months, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends it for all adults except pregnant women in the first trimester.

Wash your hands. Because many viruses are spread by hand-to-mouth contact, frequent handwashing is key. As soon as a baby can reach out for objects, wash her hands often.

Make sure older kids wash before every meal. No need for special antibacterial agents -- lathering up with ordinary soap and warm water for at least ten seconds on both sides of the hand and between fingers will do the trick. "I tell Joey to sing the ABC song while he scrubs," says Vicki Penner of Lawrence, Kansas. "By the time we get to 'Z,' it's time to rinse. He's three and thinks it's really fun." She does turn the water off for soaping, though, and on again for rinsing. "If I leave it on, he'll just play in the water."

If someone in the house is already sick, make sure he washes his hands even more often than before meals. "I tell my four kids, 'If you sneeze on your hands, be sure to wash them before you open the refrigerator or touch the remote control so we don't all get sick,'" says Mike Toomey of Spencer, Massachusetts. When soap isn't handy, make do with wipes or gel cleansers, which are effective against both bacteria and viruses. (The rubbing action alone will kill many germs.) Anne-Marie Welsh keeps a bottle of hand sanitizer in her purse for trips to the grocery store, skating rink, movie theater -- "anywhere little hands are touching lots of surfaces." Such outings also tend to involve snacks, she says, "so the germs can go right from their hands to their mouth."

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