As any parent can tell you, it's cold season.
The reason why we often keep getting colds during the winter is not because of the weather, but because we're all cooped with each other (and each other's germs) indoors.
Rhinoviruses can survive up to three hours on skin and inanimate objects. That means when little Johnny hacks away without covering his mouth at preschool, your little Annie has ample opportunity to come in contact with his germs. And bring them home alive.
What can a parent do? Make kids wash their hands. A lot. (Tell them they can finally play in water.) You usually catch a cold or other virus by touching a germ-ladder surface, and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Voila! You're infected.
Here's how to prevent colds and flu at home with a germ-busting surface cleaning routine.
How you wash is also important. Avoid the bacterial soaps that may actually cause more viruses in the long run by making germs resistant.
Unless kids' hands are visibly dirty, encourage them to use the alcohol-based cleansers that clean without water.
These cleansers kill germs by dehydration. You can buy small bottles and pack them in your kids' backpacks for use at school.
If they need soap and water, they must scrub vigorously for at least 30 seconds to kill germs. (Tell Annie to wash while she sings the Alphabet Song. That should do it.) The more you wash, the safer you are.
Finally, teach kids to sneeze or cough into a tissue and then throw the tissue away.
What's the most germ-laden room of your home? Nope, it's not the bathroom.
It's the kitchen - especially the sink area. And the worst germ-breeding object in your house? The kitchen sponge or dishrag.
The moistness in sponges creates an ideal growing environment for these nasty little creatures.
Disinfect sponges periodically by wetting them and popping them into the microwave for two minutes; replace them at least once a week. Chase dishrags daily.
Also be careful when using cutting boards. Use a different cutting board for meat than for vegetables. And wash the board after every use with hot soapy water.
And forget the conventional wisdom that plastic boards are safer. Recent studies have revealed that most bacteria dies within three minutes on a wooden cutting board.
Your other defense is to clean surfaces that may harbor germs with a good virus-killing disinfectant, such as bleach or disposable disinfecting wipes.
Regularly clean doorknobs, faucets, countertops, keyboards, and any other frequently touched surface.
Don't forget the laundry - it too can be a key culprit in the spread of infectious germs and bacteria. If sneezy Susie handed your child her backpack or grabbed your daughter's sweatshirt arm at recess, bacteria and germs are probably still playing on these items.
Plan to wash your child's backpack (unzipping zippers, taking out papers and wrappers first) and school sweatshirts or jackets at least weekly in the hottest water that's safe for the fabric. Ditto for her school clothes or uniform.
If the item can handle bleach, pour it into the washing machine along with the dirty duds. Remember, only sufficiently hot water and bleach kill germs and bacteria, so become a voracious label-reader. And for your kids' dirty duds, choose "hot" for the wash water temperature whenever you can. Many hardy germs can survive a warm-water swim.
Finally, don't forget to zap the bugs that hopped off the load you sorted and on to the washer and dryer's surface. Here's to a clean home, healthy kids and a germ-free school year!