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Expert Corner

WebMD Medical Expert

Dr. Hansa Bhargava

WebMD Medical Expert

Wash hands.

You've heard this one before, but take it seriously. Plain old handwashing is still the best way we have of stopping germs from spreading. In my house, this is the rule: When you walk in the door, wash your hands. Kids need to wash before eating, after using the bathroom, and before touching their eyes or face (such as putting in contacts), too. Have them sing "Happy Birthday" twice while they scrub -- once they finish, they're done washing.

Skip the antibacterial soap.

Antibacterial soap might sound preferable to regular soap, but it really isn't. First, antibacterial soap is no better at getting rid of germs than regular soap. Second, overusing antibacterial products may be breeding stronger, more resistant bugs. Stick with regular soap instead.

Get vaccinated.

I tell parents that vaccines don't just prevent rare but devastating illnesses, like polio and meningitis. They protect against common viruses and bacteria that cause a lot of sick days in kids every year. Making sure your kids have all their vaccines means healthier kids and fewer days home from school.

Stop a family cold.

When someone is sick in your family, remember that even the kids who seem healthy may already have germs that are "brewing." Tell everyone to wash their hands more often than usual and to keep food, drinks, plates, and utensils to themselves. With good hygiene and some luck, you may stop the virus from spreading.

Use hand sanitizer.

I use alcohol-based hand sanitizers for fighting germs when I can't wash with soap and water. Just make sure you're using them correctly. Don't just take a tiny dab -- get enough to wet your hands completely. Then rub your hands briskly until they're dry.

Get enough sleep.

Studies show that most kids don't get enough sleep, and sleep is crucial in building a strong immune system that can fight off colds. Get your kids into a consistent bedtime routine -- and unplug your kids from phones, computers, TV, and other distractions at least an hour before bed.

Supplements and good nutrition.

The jury is still out on how effective supplements and vitamins are in fighting colds in kids. There's some evidence that zinc supplements and vitamin C may help. Focus on foods, such as lots of healthy fruits and vegetables. Try cooking with more garlic, ginger root, and cinnamon. Some studies have found that they may have immune-boosting properties.

Fight germs in public.

It's a germy world out there, and as a mom you have to take precautions. Always carry a bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you and use it frequently, especially before touching food. When you're on the go, try hard to stop your kids from putting their fingers in their eyes or mouths.

Don't share.

Tell your kids not to share hats, combs, or brushes with their friends -- that's an easy way to spread germs. Sharing sports equipment, which is often filthy and sweaty, can also lead to sick kids. Get them to wipe down sports equipment before putting it on. Even better, if it's affordable: Buy them their own.

Teach kids where to cough.

If your kids know to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze, that's great. It's an important way of stopping colds and respiratory infections from spreading. Just get them to cough or sneeze either into a tissue or into their upper sleeve. If kids cough in their hands, those germs are likely to get onto the next doorknob or other surface they touch. To help them remember, I tell kids: Every time you cough, pretend you're Dracula, holding his arm and cape in front of his mouth.

Don't forget mouth germs.

Cavities are caused by germs in your mouth -- they form acids that break down tooth enamel. Make sure your kids are flossing daily and brushing at least twice a day. Kids should start seeing the dentist by age 1. Almost one out of three preschoolers has cavities these days!

You don't have to be afraid of germs.

With almost daily news stories about the frightening number of germs crawling on toothbrushes, restaurant menus, and your own body, it's easy to get paranoid. Just remember that the majority of germs that you meet won't make you sick -- some are even beneficial. As long as you take sensible precautions, especially washing your hands regularly, you don't have to live in fear.

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