This year is the first time in my life that I am considering getting a flu shot. This is also the first year that the shot will probably not be available to me.

Since I do not fall into any of the categories first in line for the vaccine I imagine I will be paying particular attention to preventative measures.

After taking initial steps to advise schools about measures to help prevent flu outbreaks, the Oklahoma Department of Health is now urging businesses to be prepared to deal with an outbreak of the H1N1 swine flu in their workplaces. With many businesses already working with reduced staff due to layoffs, a flu pandemic could be disastrous.

We are especially concerned for children and the elderly since they seem to be the most vulnerable and hope a safe vaccine will be available to them in time.

I have only had the flu once or twice in my life but I noticed that it always seems to get a hold of me shortly after I have been to a grocery or department store. I blame it on the shopping cart. Think about how many people touch those shopping carts a day. Most stores have a disinfectant wipe dispenser that you can grab a cloth and wipe down the shopping cart handle before you clamp your hands on it or put your child in the seat. It would also be nice if you would wipe it down after you use it but I donít guess anyone does that. I know that the wipes are an option for customers and everyone should take advantage of them but I think it would be a great service to the community if the stores that have greeters that hand you a shopping cart would just routinely wipe the handles during flu season. Think about all of the colds and flu that could be deterred by just this one action.

Of course, not all stores have greeters or the staff for designated handle wipers, so being responsible for your own disinfecting could go a long way. In fact, it might be good to carry a little purse pack of wipes and use them wherever you go, along with the alcohol based hand sanitizers.

In my business I shake a lot of hands. I am sorry to report but I donít always wash my hands immediately prior to shaking someoneís hands and Iím sure the same goes for others.

Iím not hypersensitive about germs but the recent predictions about the possible flu season have me thinking about this socially acceptable form of greeting.

Now I know people donít knowingly or willingly try to spread colds or flu to their friends or businesspeople. But, when you think about all the handshaking that goes on itís kind of scary. Sure, declining a handshake when someone has obviously dirty or greasy hands because of some activity they are currently involved in is acceptable, but most people would be offended by a handshake refusal without a logical explanation.

There are other social situations that handshakes are common ó one of them is during church services. It is almost mandatory hand shaking occurs when the pastor asks you to take a few minutes and shake someoneís hand, introduce yourself, etc.

To help prevent the spread of illness, I think that the practice of handshaking should be curtailed or eliminated during flu season and that men and woman should not be offended if someone refuses to shake their hands.

In fact, maybe we should take up another form of greeting anyway since colds and flu are not just limited to fall and winter.

Handshakes were not always the common form of greeting in this country anyway and women used to wear gloves, which helped prevent the spread of disease.

In fact, George Washington decided that shaking hands was for common people so he took to bowing when greeting people in public. We could always go back to hat tipping, which is still a common western gesture where the hat of a man is lifted ó a charming form of greeting in my opinion, but I guess not everyone wears a hat.

While researching alternatives I found that Wai is a Thai greeting consisting of a slight bow with the palms of the hands pressed together in a prayer like fashion. The higher the hands are held in respect to the face and the lower the bow, the more respectful is the gesture.

This would not work in the business world since it would reveal too much information concerning oneís inner thoughts toward others ó not always good, although bowing and curtsying worked 150 years ago in this country and distinguished a gentleman from a lady.

Saluting works for the military. Maybe it would work for civilians. Probably not.

Maybe just a mere ďpleased to meet youĒ will have to suffice in the future.

In the meantime, letís do everything we can to be responsible in the schools, in public and in the workplace to ward off the flu bug and letís all pray the flu passes us and our children by this season.

Cheryl frequently practices 19th century etiquette. In Real Life Cheryl Franklin is the Publisher of the Grove Sun.