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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Prevent Flu: Don’t Be Touchy

Keep your hands off your face to keep the flu virus at bay.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Resist the urge. Little habits -- touching eyes, putting finger to nose, biting nails -- give the flu virus a welcome mat into your system. A day or two later, when the first signs of flu hit you, you'll wonder -- how did I get the flu? When avoiding the flu, you've got to resist those habits.

"These are bad habits for many people," says Robert Schwartz, MD, chairman of family medicine at the University of Miami School of Medicine. "But they are the main way a virus gets into your system, via the oral and respiratory nasal route."

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Making It Work: Nose-Picking Kids and Sticky Notes

Breaking your kids -- and yourself -- of these habits isn't easy, Schwartz notes. "It comes down to personal motivation. People who bring hands to face a lot put themselves more at risk of infection."

If you need reminders, a few tips: Sticky notes on your computer can help. Tape a note to your coffee mug, too. Put notes on your bathroom mirror at home, on the car dashboard, on the kitchen cabinets, the fridge, closet, purse, briefcase. Note to self: PREVENT FLU.

"You can remind kids not to touch their eyes, nose, or mouth -- which is hard because kids like to pick their noses," says Rachel Orscheln, MD, an infectious disease specialist and pediatrician at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

To make the message effective, you can't just say it out of context, Orscheln notes. "They have to remember that now is cold and flu season, and eyes and nose are how germs get into the body. Remind them, too, that they need to wash hands often."

How important is this flu prevention tip? It depends on your perspective. Sometimes a little sickness can be healthy in the long run.

Erica Brownfield, MD, a professor of internal medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, says that exposure to germs is actually good for kids. "I'm not as paranoid about germs as some people. I let my kids touch and eat and do whatever they want to do. I think it builds up the immune system."

Reviewed on October 01, 2010

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