Children often seem like germ magnets, picking up infections wherever they go. For some families, cold and flu season can feel like one long bout of sniffling and coughing. But a little prevention can go a long way for kids and adults. Save your sick days and follow these tips:

Upgrade your hand-washing technique. To really send germs down the drain, a quick rinse won’t cut it. Take your time lathering up, and pay extra attention to the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. Not sure if you’ve scrubbed enough? Teach your kids (and yourself) to sing at the sink: When you’ve warbled your way through two rounds of “Happy Birthday,” it’s time to rinse.

Hit the sack early. Research has shown that not getting enough sleep can make you more likely to get sick when you pick up cold viruses. And the less rest you get, the greater your chances. Adults should aim for at least 7 hours a night, while school-age kids need 10 or more.

Get a flu vaccine. Everyone in your family who is older than 6 months should get one each year. What about infants? They’re too young to be vaccinated, but they can have serious problems if they get the flu. So it’s extra important for their caregivers to get vaccinated instead.

You can choose between the traditional shot and the FluMist nasal spray.

Eat a rainbow. Balanced, healthy meals with plenty of fruits and vegetables can help keep everyone’s immune system in top form. Look for foods rich in vitamin A (sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach), vitamin C (citrus fruits), and vitamin E (almonds, sunflower seeds). Lean protein (seafood, eggs, beans) can also help boost your body’s defenses. 

What about those supplements that claim to boost your immunity with big doses of vitamins? Science shows they won’t stop you from getting a cold. A healthy diet is more reliable fuel for your immune system.

Teach them to take cover. Sneezes and coughs send germs flying through the air -- and once airborne, these viruses and bacteria can travel far and wide. Covering your mouth or nose with your hands won’t do much to stop the spread, unless you wash up right away. Instead, sneeze or cough into a tissue or -- if you don’t have one handy -- your elbow. Teach everyone in your home to do the same.  

Ditch bad habits. Picking your nose. Biting your nails. Chewing on your pencils. Rubbing your eyes. All of these make it easy for germs to hitch a ride into your body. Remind your kids to keep their hands -- and any other not-so-clean objects -- out of their mouths, noses, and eyes.

Disinfect germ hot spots. It’s impossible to keep your entire home sterile. But do regularly disinfect surfaces that lots of hands touch -- like doorknobs, faucet handles, computer keyboards, crib railings, and TV remotes. Viruses can survive on these kinds of hard surfaces for up to 8 hours.

Don’t share. Sure, sharing is kind -- but not when it comes to trading germs. Tell your kids not to share personal items that can’t be disinfected, like lip gloss, headphones, or drinking straws.

WebMD Medical Reference


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