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Germ Warfare: Common Cold & Flu Culprits

It's cold and flu season again, and the most innocent of objects could be your greatest health threat.

Potty Training

"People tend to go for middle stalls in a public bathroom," Gerba tells WebMD. "Those stalls tend to be the germiest because they get the most use." The more people who use a stall, the more they put their not-so-clean-hands contaminated with flu and cold viruses on doors, knobs, locks, flushers, and toilet paper rolls -- each an opportunity for you to pick up the germs they've left behind. "If you ever want to make sure you're going to have toilet paper in a public restroom, and maybe find a semiclean spot," Gerba suggests, "go for the first stall, because fewer people use it."

Keep Your Lunch to Yourself

Kids' sharing should be applauded, except when it comes to lunch: 84% of kids say they swap drinks, snacks, and sandwiches, which means your daughter's best friend's flu virus might migrate to her Sponge Bob lunch box. Worse yet, since more than nine of 10 kids keep their lunches anywhere but the fridge before their midday meal, they give the flu a perfect place to grow and thrive -- a warm, dark environment. A tip: Pop your child's juice box or water bottle into the freezer the night before. It'll act as a coolant the next morning, and hold off not only food-borne illnesses but also prevent viruses from multiplying in a lunch box before you have a chance to wash it.

Shake Down

With between 20% and 50% of Americans coming down with the flu every year, shaking hands is one of the main culprits. It's simple: You cover your mouth, sneeze, forget to wash your flu-virus-laden hands, and then politely press palms with your real estate agent. "Flu spreads one of two ways, primarily by air or by contact," Gerba says. "Shaking hands is at the top of the list."

Lip Service

Kissing can help prevent cavities; it stimulates the flow of saliva, which naturally cleanses away cavity-causing food particles. But it can also make you sick. When you lock lips, you exchange saliva, and if you have the flu, your saliva is teeming with the influenza virus -- something for which mistletoe is no match.

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