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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Christmas came early last year: Our copier repairman at work gave me his cold. I spent Christmas Eve and Day with my cat, because I dared not inflict my cold on my elderly parents.

Abby, please remind your readers to cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing. A big thank-you. Sign me ... AAACHOO!

DEAR AAACHOO: You're welcome. (Gesundheit!)

As important as covering one's mouth when coughing or sneezing may be, it is equally important for EVERYONE to frequently wash their hands during cold season. Contrary to popular belief that colds are caught from germs flying through the air, more colds are caught because people cough and sneeze into their hands, and then touch objects that are touched by others (door handles, elevator buttons, stair rails, telephones). When their contaminated fingers touch their eyes or noses -- THAT is how colds are transmitted.

Frequent hand-washing (or sanitizing) is the best defense. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: As we all know the importance of washing our hands because illness can be transmitted by touching our eyes, nose and mouth, it amazes me that strangers have an uncontrollable desire to test a newborn infant's hand grasp. Don't they know that babies comfort themselves by putting their hands into their mouths?

It's flu season, Abby, so please ask your readers to try to keep their hands to themselves when they see a baby. Only their smiles, coos and kind words are appreciated by their parents. -- CALIFORNIA MOTHER OF TWO

DEAR MOTHER OF TWO: That makes good sense to me. Although tiny babies are almost irresistible, adults must bear in mind that the immune systems of infants are fragile, and make the effort to lessen their exposure to illnesses they may be ill-equipped to fight off.

DEAR ABBY: Why is it that after a couple has dated for more than two years, everyone assumes that they are ready to get married and that the woman is anxiously holding her breath waiting for the ring?

I am 31 years old and have been in a relationship for three years. While we are very happy, we feel we still need time before moving on to the next step. It amazes me when family and friends chastise my boyfriend and pity me because I haven't been so "lucky" as to have gotten engaged.

Abby, please tell people that it's NOT OK to assume every woman is dying to get married. I find this degrading and old-fashioned. I realize that everyone has good intentions, but if one more person asks me when he's finally going to pop the question, I just might "pop" that person. -- HAPPILY DATING IN NEW JERSEY

DEAR HAPPILY DATING: Before popping off, please consider that your family and friends are traditional thinkers. Your attitude is extremely contemporary. Until the last 15 or 20 years, it was most women's dream to be married -- and if they were in a steady relationship for more than two years without a commitment, the problem often was that the boyfriend was unwilling.

Years ago, girls used to dream about a little white house with a picket fence. Now, they're likely to dream about a corporate office with a couple of windows.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more attractive person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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