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Avoiding germs in the waiting room

Zenaida Morales of Hempstead brought her 7-month-old daughter,

Zenaida Morales of Hempstead brought her 7-month-old daughter, Jimena Gaudaloupe Chavez, to receive the H1N1 flu vaccine at Nassau University Medical Center. (Oct. 28, 2009) Credit: Kathy Kmonicek

If you weren't already feeling a bit under the weather, the stuff floating around and lying on surfaces in the average pediatrician's office could make your tummy a little queasy.

Think about it. Slobbery fingers clutching blocks, nasal juice on the armrests and Lord only knows what's on that coloring book.

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What's a parent or the nurse in the pediatrician's office to do?

Dr. Clifford Norwen, interim chief of the Division of General Pediatrics at Schneider Children's Hospital in New Hyde Park, has some suggestions, starting with that basket of communal toys. "Just get rid of them," Norwen said. "We don't have toys in the waiting room at any time. And, if we have patients who are symptomatic, we separate them into another waiting area."

As for what children do while waiting for their appointments, Schneider provides books and an interactive area with computers that have games. "We have a staff of volunteers who come in each night and completely wipes down all the books and the interactive area," said Monique Schomburg-Friday, administrative office supervisor.

If you have to visit a doctor, Schneider's staffers also suggest:

1. Bring your own toys, and don't share with others.

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2. If your child is going to play with the Petri dish that masquerades as the communal toy basket, wipe the toy down with saniwipes or alcohol wipes before and after your child plays with anything.

3. Carry hand sanitizer and saniwipes for yourself and any surfaces.

4. If the doctor's office offers an area for symptomatic patients, use it.

5. If there isn't a sequestering area, try to stay at least 6 feet from an obviously symptomatic person.

"The best thing a pediatrician can do is to have a supply of Purell," Norwen said.

Dr. Jason B. Hitner, who practices in North Babylon at his

Well Baby Center and Pediatric Care Center, clusters contagious appointments and sequesters children who have had fevers above 101.5 degrees in the past 24 hours.

Advice for outside the office:

6. Don't feed the child while in the office or immediately before the visit (tongue depressor can cause them to vomit).

7. Hitner's office has a cell phone call list. You wait in the car with your child until your turn to go into a waiting room.

8. Bring the pharmacy number with you and request to have prescriptions called in so you don't have to wait.

9. Let the staff know if your child has had a fever in the past 24 hours (because they're more likely to be contagious).

10. Before any sick visit, get your child immunized. "It gives the child's immune system a head start," he said.

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